Sensemaking about Contraceptive Methods across Online Platforms


  • LeAnn McDowall Cornell University
  • Maria Antoniak Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence
  • David Mimno Cornell University



Selecting a birth control method is a complex healthcare decision. While birth control methods provide important benefits, they can also cause unpredictable side effects and be stigmatized, leading many people to seek additional information online, where they can privately find reviews, advice, hypotheses, and experiences of other birth control users. However, the relationships between their healthcare concerns, sensemaking activities, and online settings are not well understood. We gather texts about birth control shared on Twitter and Reddit—popular communities with different affordances, moderation, and audiences—to study where and how birth control is discussed online. Using a combination of topic modeling and hand annotation, we identify and characterize the dominant sensemaking practices across these platforms, and we create lexica to draw comparisons across birth control methods and side effects. We use these to measure variations from survey reports of side effect experiences, highlighting topics that social media users discuss more than expected online. Our findings characterize how online platforms are used to make sense of difficult healthcare choices, including analyzing risks, calculating timing and dosages, hypothesizing about causes of side effects, and storytelling about painful experiences. We contribute both to understanding unmet needs of birth control users and to exploring context-specific patterns in social media discussions.




How to Cite

McDowall, L., Antoniak, M., & Mimno, D. (2024). Sensemaking about Contraceptive Methods across Online Platforms. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 18(1), 1041-1053.