Social media—websites and applications that allow people to interact, share information, and form special-interest groups on their computers and phones—is the fastest and easiest way to get real-time information from people all the over the country, and in some cases, all over the world. If you have an account with a social media site such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, or Pinterest, you already know how Internet community connectivity works. More and more, people with chronic diseases like diabetes turn to social media groups, where health information and advice on coping with medical issues can be found in the form of text, photos, videos, and interactive forums.
The internet gave birth to the online community, a place where people with similar interests can “meet” in forums to share ideas, discuss problems or find solutions, and get updates, encouragement, and companionship. Facebook is the classic example of large social networking site that connects people to one another online and allows them to share personal experiences. It also enables people to form and join special-interest groups, or communities, wherein they can connect with even more people to share ideas and find support. Simply search “diabetes” in Facebook to find groups that suit your specific diabetes interests. Facebook diabetes communities can also link you to other diabetes-specific communities elsewhere online for more information and guidance.
The diabetes online community (DOC) is the name given to those virtual groups, blogs, forums, and other online outlets that connect people with diabetes and those that care for them by providing information and support. The DOC includes both the places that host these discussions, and the people that participate in them. If you've ever Tweeted about diabetes, commented on a diabetes blog, or joined a diabetes forum conversation, you are a part of the DOC.
A 2013 review published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research looked at the results of 98 research studies covering the various uses, benefits, and potential problems of using social media for communicating healthcare advice and information. In addition to the many benefits researchers found for patients, health professionals, and the general public, they presented some important limitations and potential problems.
Although there is plenty of solid diabetes advice on the Internet, anyone can post anything on a forum, so you will get the most reliable advice from those sites that are routinely monitored by administrators for quality and reliability of information. Look for sites with medical advisory boards and contributions from professionals, and community forums with large and active memberships.
To ensure authenticity, always look for, and consider, the source of any information you find on a social network. Researchers found a great deal of promotional activity online, including advertisements, testimonials, and other information sponsored or influenced by companies and individuals that provide products or services to people with diabetes. While it is generally pretty easy to separate advertisements from other content on a site, bloggers are sometimes paid or otherwise compensated to mention specific products in their writing or show them in photographs in subtle ways that do no appear to be advertisements. Credible writers and bloggers will post disclosures about any financial relationships they have with diabetes-related products and services that could influence their writing.
As with all Internet communication, there are privacy and confidentiality concerns when using social media, so it is best to keep very personal information to yourself. It is also important to recognize that no matter how legitimate online health information appears, it should never take the place of your own healthcare provider’s advice.