Focus on research: AdPR professor studies social media discussions of serious diseases

Himelboim_Itai.15As part of a new initiative, the Advertising and Public Relations department will highlight research led by our own faculty and staff. In this article, Associate Professor Itai Himelboim studies the mood of social media postings discussing serious disease:

Gall Myrick, J., Holton, A., Himelboim, I., Brad, L. (2015). #StupidCancer: Exploring a typology of social support in an online interactive environment. Health Communication.

Social media postings about serious diseases, such as cancer, are more likely to express feelings of hope, as opposed to negative emotions such as fear and distress. That’s one of the findings of a new study recently published in the Journal of Health Communication. According to co-author Itai Himelboim, associate professor of advertising at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, cancer patients, as well as their friends and family, are more likely to express positive emotions in their social media conversations, perhaps as a way of “fighting back” against the disease and showing support for those afflicted.


Posts expressing negative emotions, on the other hand, are less likely to be shared or retweeted, suggesting that “the norm for discussions in a cancer community may be to remain as optimistic as possible,” according to the article. The study also found that information sharing is widespread among those posting about cancer, with 61 percent of tweets in the sample containing hyperlinks to outside sources. Meanwhile, an interesting benefit of sharing support via social media may be the ability to establish a broader community of users who may or may not have a direct connection to the cancer experience.


The purpose of the study was to explore a new typology, or categorization, of social support interactions in an online environment. The study distinguishes between interactions that offer helpful information as opposed to those that provide strictly emotional support, both for those who transmit the posts and those who receive.

To view the full article, click here.

Written by Tripp Cagle.

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