Research areas and objectives

The Space for Sharing study explores the online relationships and behaviour of people affected by a variety of extreme circumstances.


Research areas

The Space for Sharing study explores the online relationships and behaviour of people affected by a variety of extreme circumstances.

Each of these forms a research area within the project:

Why we explored these particular situations

People in these circumstances can be extremely vulnerable, and some people may be seeking help that could make the difference between life and death.

Occasions can arise where it may be necessary to establish trust and empathy very quickly to make that difference.

In some contexts, people may end up over-sharing information, or they may be disadvantaged by not sharing enough. At the same time, sharing helps others in the online community to establish whether they are responding to genuine distress.

Understanding how trust and empathy work in these circumstances can help to transform how resources and aid are distributed on a local and global basis. It could also enhance individual and community resilience, for example, improving experiences of living with a health condition.

Such changes may have both good and bad consequences. Because of this, ethics at a personal, global, institutional and governmental level, were at the core of our project.

As part of the research, we will be accessed online data from a wide range of sources and interacted with a variety of organisations, including UK charities, international non-governmental organisations and health charities.

The project produced outputs from the research for academic audiences, our stakeholders, health professionals, and the general public.

Research objectives

The project’s overall aim was to provide a transdisciplinary understanding of the online sharing of personal information, emotion and resources in extreme circumstances (ranging from dangerous and addictive drug use, life-threatening health conditions, to emotional distress and natural disasters).

It explored how, in such circumstances, these acts of sharing impact on the development of empathy and trust on and offline.

The research objectives of the project were as follows:

  • To document how and why individuals in extreme or precarious situations share information and experiences in online environments. These include people who are:
    • affected by natural disasters
    • living with a diagnosis of a life-threatening, life shortening or long-term condition
    • in need of donated human tissue
    • are experiencing emotional distress
    • dealing with drug addiction or taking risks with new psychoactive substances (NPS).
  • To examine the role of empathic and trust relations in such online environments: how they develop, are maintained and may be betrayed.
  • To understand the implications of under-sharing and over-sharing of emotional and other resources online for offline relationships and communities, and physical or material resources.
  • To explore the way ethical subjectivities are shaped by the mediated, affective flows of empathy and trust that various online platforms afford people in extreme and precarious situations.
  • To develop, via a transdisciplinary approach, a better understanding of the multiple dimensions of online sharing in circumstances of extremis (in a range of contexts) and how these intersect with various aspects life in contemporary society

A global reputation

Sheffield is a research university with a global reputation for excellence. We're a member of the Russell Group: one of the 24 leading UK universities for research and teaching.