Exploring the Ethics of Care on Social Media: An Interdisciplinary Network

Group leader: Dr Anna Lavis


Across the various research and public engagement activities of this network, we are analysing the dynamics and ethics of giving and receiving care online. Through our current focus on exploring discussions of self-harm on social media, we are asking what it means ‘to care’ for oneself or others on and through the Internet.

Join the network

Our network brings together charities and academics working in the areas of care, social media and/or self-harm. If you are interested in joining this network then please email either Dr Anna Lavis  or Dr Rachel Winter, who can provide you with further information and keep you updated about our activities.  

Our research group

The network’s activities all coalesce around this central question: “What is care in the context of social media, and what forms does it take?” By engaging with a wide variety of cyberspaces we ask what it means to care on and through social media, and the ethical challenges this might pose both online and offline.

It is known that people are increasingly turning to social media to find support, information, and communities with similar experiences, especially in relation to health concerns. However, the forms and ethics of care that are transacted through such interactions are yet to be fully understood or explored. Through a Wellcome Trust seed award, our current research study is engaging with these broad questions through an empirical focus on online interactions that occur around self-harm, also known as self-injury. Self-harm offers a key critical lens onto the complexities of care online.

Current projects

“Virtual scars: Exploring the ethics of care on social media through interactions around self-injury”

Internet-focused research has analysed support- and information-seeking on the part of individuals with health conditions. This study reverses this habitual focus to explore practices of caring on social media. There is yet to be a comprehensive interrogation and theorising of the forms that care takes online, the ethical challenges it poses, or its potential relevance to clinical practice. Drawing on the anthropology of ethics, and cross-disciplinary analyses of care, this research attends to this lack through an online ethnography of self-injury.

Self-injury is common in the UK, particularly among adolescents. It is also the focus of myriad cyber-discussions, spaces and hashtags. This project follows hashtags through different social media sites. These act as pathways through the internet, linking different spaces by common themes. Through online ethnography we can observe how care is enacted on different sites, what forms it takes and the ethical complexities that it engenders. This research is funded by the Wellcome Trust. 


Principle Investigator
Dr Anna Lavis

Dr Rachel Winter 

Core activities

Alongside the research, core activities include:

  • Public Engagement: Collaboration with the Body and Being Network to host a series of lived experience blog posts and a public performance to enhance public understandings of self-harm and social media
  • Interdisciplinary workshops for academics and charities working on care, self-harm and social media

Further details of these activities will be provided closer to the events.

The Body and Being Network, a research and public engagement initiative: