Social Groups

Instructions: Read the following passage. Answer the ethical question following the passage. Respond to the question in 5-7 complete sentences.

Imogen D’Arcy was only 13 years old when she hanged herself in her bathroom, because despite being described as fit and well-liked, she felt fat and ugly (Stokes, 2008). Laura Dunnegan developed an eating disorder at age seven. Sixteen years later, she sees her disorder as a “lifestyle option” rather than as a disease that may kill her (Croucher, 2008). What do these girls have in common? Both regularly visited Web sites where they received encouragement and reinforcement of their distorted self-images.

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The Internet provides a space for individuals to form social groups with others who share interests or concerns. However, not all of these virtual group spaces demonstrate the characteristics of healthy groups. For example, the “pro-ana” (promoting anorexia nervosa) sites, such as the types D’Arcy visited before she died and that Dunnegan frequently visits, are online spaces where people with eating disorders can find support and share their experiences without judgment. On the surface, these sites may seem to provide a positive environment, however, they often encourage people to develop and continue dangerous behaviors. For example, pro-ana sites often feature advice on how to starve yourself effectively or photos of extremely underweight women as “thinspiration” for members.

C. J. Pascoe (2008), a sociologist who studies teenagers and digital media at the University of California, Berkeley, explains that, before the Internet, anorexics had to check into a psychiatric hospital to find others like themselves. Now, they can find community without seeking treatment. In the British Journal of Social Psychology, David Giles (2006) suggests that “The Internet offers a perfect sanctuary for people with interests that are unacceptable to the general public. By serving as a counter-culture to official discourse around health and illness, the Web may serve to undermine the professionals so that more and more people find ways of opting out of conventional society (e.g., health care) if they can locate supportive communities online” (p. 2).

On the other hand, online outlets for social groups can also be a good thing. One example is the It Gets Better project. The Web site was originally created in 2010 by syndicated columnist and author Dan Savage in response to a rash of bullying-related suicides among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) youth. Today, the site features over 50,000 user-created videos of support for LGBT teens facing harassment to illustrate that it WILL get better once they get through the teen years. Ultimately online social groups can be “a double-edged sword. For better or for worse, kids who are marginalized can find community online” (Pascoe, 2008, p. 2).

Do you think the pros of online social groups outweigh the cons? Why or why not?

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