Researchers from Sweden have reported results from the application of two conceptual frameworks to the internet behaviors of people with aphasia (PWA), with an eye to understanding their management of online identities. Goals of identity management may focus, among other things, on reducing or eliminating disability perceptions among remote internet communicators.

The investigators interviewed nine PWA (aged 26-62 y/o), and collected over 1,500 screen shots of interviewees’ online posts for analysis.  They performed qualitative thematic analysis of these materials, drawing on: (i) a ‘composition / content / context’ conceptual framework to analyze subjects’ online posts; and (ii) a ‘stigma management / passing’ conceptual framework to analyze subjects’ identity management goals.

Regarding composition, the analysis revealed three primary concerns – reliance on others or technology, options beyond speaking and writing, and control over speed and timing.  Regarding content, analysis showed that subjects rarely posted materials about aphasia itself, though some attempted to raise awareness. And regarding context, subjects’ willingness to be open about aphasia was observed to be site-dependent.

Regarding stigma management goals, subjects reported sometimes wanting to ‘pass’, that is, not to be perceived as contending with communication challenges. To do so, they needed to control all three dimensions of their online presentation: context, composition, and content, in that order.

Finally, the multimodality of the Internet can represent an important advantage for PWA.  It permits subjects to choose to manage their stigma in a variety of ways, including choosing to engage in ways that do not reveal disability challenges at all.  Subjects were observed to vary noticeably in strategy choices.

For further reading:   H. Taubner, M. Hallén, Å. Wengelin.  2017.  Signs of aphasia; online identity and stigma management in post-stroke aphasia.  Cyberpsychology, 11(1), article 10.

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