Shared information practices on Facebook. The formation and development of a sustainable online community

Publication Date24 Feb 2020
AuthorAmeera Mansour
SubjectLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Shared information practices
on Facebook
The formation and development of a sustainable
online community
Ameera Mansour
Swedish School of Library and Information Science, University of Bor
as, Sweden
Purpose This study aims to develop an in-depth understanding of the underlying dynamics of an emergent
shared information practice within a Facebook group, and the resources the group develops to sustain this
Design/methodology/approach In-depth semi-structured interviews were carried out with twenty
members from the group. The findings are based on comparative analysis combined with narrative analysis
and were interpreted using theories of situated learning and Community of Practice.
Findings The study shows that although members of this multicultural mothers group endorsed different,
sometimes opposing parenting practices, the group had to find common ground when sharing information.
Managing these challenges was key to maintaining the group as an open information resource for all members.
The group produced a shared repertoire of resources to maintain its activities, including norms, rules, shared
understandings, and various monitoring activities. The shared online practice developed by the community is
conceptualised in this article as an information practice requiring shared, community-specific understandings
of what, when, and how information can or should be sought or shared in ways that are valued in this specific
community. The findings show that this shared information practice is not static but continually evolves as
members negotiate what is, or not, important for the group.
Originality/value The research provides novel insights into the underlying dynamics of the emergence,
management, and sustainability of a shared information practice within a contemporary mothers group on
Keywords Information practices, Community of practice, Online communities, Mothers, Norms, Social media,
Social networking sites, Facebook
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Our contemporary society is witnessing a rapid adoption of mobile technologies and social
networking tools, now embedded in almost all aspects of many peoples everyday and
professional life. As a result of these advancements, social networking online has become
commonplace for many people, offering numerous opportunities to connect and interact with
diverse local and global communities (boyd, 2017).
Facebook, for instance, has been consistently reported to be one of the most
predominant social networking sites (SNSs), with billions of users from all around the
world (Duggan et al., 2015). On Facebook, people are able to stay in touch with pre-established
offline social networks (e.g., family, friends, colleagues) and form and join new local and
global communities with masses of other people who share common interests or concerns
(Smock et al., 2011). Facebook reports, for instance, that there are more than 1 billion people
who access Facebook groups monthly, and of those, more than 100 million people are part of
so-called meaningful groups(Zuckerberg, 2017). A growing body of research has revealed
that Facebook groups are increasing in popularity and attracting diverse user groups.
For instance, parents, particularly mothers, are known as one of the most avid users of
Facebook groups (Duggan et al., 2015;Lupton et al., 2016;Niela-Vil
en et al., 2014).
practices on
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 10 October 2018
Revised 20 December 2019
Accepted 29 December 2019
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 76 No. 3, 2020
pp. 625-646
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JD-10-2018-0160
The use of online parenting groups seems to have grown into a worldwide phenomenon
because these groups enable parents to connect and discuss parenting experiences, practices,
and philosophies with other parents (Lupton et al., 2016;Niela Vil
en et al., 2014). Facebook
groups have been found to be used by parents of children with special needs, LGBT parents,
stay-at-home fathers in the United States (Ammari et al., 2014;Ammari and Schoenebeck,
2015,2016;Blackwell et al., 2016), parents of autistic children in Malaysia (Roffeei et al., 2015),
breastfeeding mothers of pre-mature newborns in Finland (Niela-Vil
en et al., 2015), immigrant
mothers in Sweden (Mansour and Francke, 2017), and grieving parents in Sweden and
Denmark (H
ard af Segerstad and Kasperowski, 2015;Christensen et al., 2017), amongst
others. These groups have been recognized by many parents as empowering, offering
information and social support that complements, and in some instances, replaces traditional
information and support channels (Lupton et al., 2016;Niela-Vil
en et al., 2014).
Although peoples ability to engage in online communities is far from new, SNSs have
changed how these online communities are formed, maintained, and organised (Baym, 2011;
Boyd and Ellison, 2007;Lupton et al., 2016). Whereas earlier online communities were often
organised, monitored, and sponsored by professional organisations and companies that
controlled how the groups were used, SNS groups are often self-governed by ordinary
individuals (Drentea and Moren-Cross, 2011;Lupton et al., 2016). Most importantly, SNSs
make content more visible, scalable, replicable, searchable, and persistent than the content of
earlier online communities (Boyd, 2010).
In spite of this capacity for individual empowerment, current research illustrates that
SNSs present people with new, complex challenges. For example, SNSs have contributed to a
growing phenomenon, known as context collapse,where people from multiple social groups
collapse into one flat social space, becoming a single audience (Boyd, 2010;Marwick and
Boyd, 2011a,b;Marwick and Ellison, 2012). People now connect with groups previously kept
separate (e.g., family, friends, and colleagues), blurring the lines between private and
professional contexts (Boyd, 2010). This is because these diverse groups value different
practices and may have different expectations of what is appropriate to discuss in these
communities, which may create tensions or conflicts (Boyd, 2010;McLaughlin and
Vitak, 2011). For instance, while it is usually appropriate to share private content with
close family and friends, sharing the same content with colleagues may be inappropriate or
risky (McLaughlin and Vitak, 2011;Ollier-Malaterre and Serre, 2018;Ammari et al., 2015).
Numerous researchers have looked at how people engage in emerging social networking
practices of self-presentation, relationship maintenance and friending, and privacy
(e.g., Ammari et al., 2015;Blackwell et al., 2016;Uski and Lampinen, 2016;McLaughlin and
Vitak, 2011;Marwick and Boyd, 2011a,b,2014;Ollier-Malaterre and Serre, 2018).
These studies have mostly examined practices on an individual level and within the
context of personal profiles. There is still a limited understanding of the underlying dynamics
of shared practices on a group level, which are mostly emerging on SNS-based groups
ard af Segerstad and Kasperowski, 2015;Marwick and Ellison, 2012). Participation in
shared practices can be complicated because these groups are often joined by heterogeneous
members who are usually unknown to one another (Marwick and Ellison, 2012).
Further, whereas there is a large amount of research on usersparticipation in online
communities the majority of this research is still undertheorised and has been mostly
concerned with its quantity (for an extensive review, see Malinen, 2015).
Many parents today are members of SNSs groups, and this raises the question of how
members of these groups participate in increasingly diverse and complex parenting
communities, where they are confronted with myriad parenting practices that may confirm or
contradict their own (Abetz and Moore, 2018;Ammari and Schoenebeck, 2016). The aim of
this study is to answer this question by providing an understanding of the underlying
dynamics of emergent shared information practice within the context of a multicultural

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