The Secret Life of Online Moms

Parenting sites are immensely popular. Sites like iVillage, babycenter, and Facebook see millions of visits and views from parents every month. On all of these sites moms use real names or pseudonyms and these sites tend to be supportive places where moms can share information and give each other advice. But what happens on sites where moms participate anonymously?

YBM is an anonymous message board for parents. YBM exposes the intersection between two distinct cultures:

  • the empathetic culture of supportive parenting sites like iVillage or babycenter
  • the more harsh and critical culture of sites like 4chan and reddit

We collected over 4 million posts and 47 million comments from YouBeMom between 2008-2012 and analyzed what kinds of topics moms talked about.

What do moms talk about online?

  • Moms use a variety of shortcodes such as dh (dear husband), dd (dear daughter), ds (dear son), and dcs (dear children)
  • Almost 5% of posts are about “dh”
  • Posts about “dh” are more angry than other posts
  • Post about “dh” are more negative than other posts
  • Posts about money co-occur with dh more than other posts
Words that co-occur with "dh" on YouBeMom.
Words that co-occur with “dh” on YouBeMom. Numbers in the image refer to age of child, as in “dh and 3yo [year old] went to the park.”
How does anonymity impact what moms talk about online?

On “real name” sites like Facebook, people may not always want to admit failures or weaknesses, or reveal what they are really thinking. People engage in face saving behavior, where they try to present their best selves to others online. Anonymity lets moms be more honest, without fear of repercussion. Anonymity allows moms to separate their online actions from their face-to-face identity.

Why anonymity online matters for moms

Moms find a different kind of social outlet on YouBeMom than they might find in other parts of their daily lives. This gives them a place to share questions, resources, anxieties, and even fantasies that they might not feel comfortable sharing face-to-face or on a site like Facebook.

For more, see our full paper, The Secret Life of Online Moms: Anonymity and Disinhibition on
Sarita Yardi Schoenebeck, University of Michigan

About the author

Sarita Yardi Schoenebeck

Sarita is an Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on how families--parents and youth--use social media in their daily lives. She tweets at @syardi.

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  • It’s interesting work. Did you compare the YBM site with others like iVillage or babycenter you mentioned? In order to prove the impact of anonymity, the comparison may confirm the results. 🙂

  • What about online DADS???

    I use one of the other sites you mentioned. The wording almost universally assumes that all users are mothers. Similarly, your paper makes no mention of references to “dw”. Can I really be the only father who bothered to go online for answers to a parenting issue?

    Anonymity is helpful, not only to prevent strangers from peering into our family matters, but also because I can ask a question in very frank terms that might ruffle feathers among family members if real names were attached. Furthermore, if we disagree with the advice of strangers, we’re not the least bit expected to follow it.