Study of the Month

“#proana: Pro-eating disorder socialization on Twitter” Study of the Month

URS-Nina and Alina
Arseniev-Koehler (left) presenting at the Undergraduate Research Symposium

Across various online platforms, like Facebook, there are Pro-Eating Disorder (Pro-ED) communities that portray eating disorders as lifestyles and idealize thinness. These communities are also known as “Pro-anorexia,” or ProAna. These communities have been studied on many platforms, but SMAHRT alum Alina Arseniev-Koehler wanted to examine these communities through the lens of Twitter. Twitter is an extremely popular social media site among adolescents, and Pro-ana communities had yet to be studied on this site. Arseniev-Koehler found this to be a unique setting for Pro-ED because content tends to be publicly exchanged.

Arseniev-Koehler conducted her study “#proana: Pro-eating disorder socialization on Twitter” in order to examine what these communities look like on the Twitter platform. For her study they identified 45 Twitter profiles which publicly self-identified as part of the Pro-ED social movement. They then investigated how these profiles were venues for social expression of an identity focused on eating disorders, finding that one-third (36.4%) of profiles’ tweets contained references to eating disorders. Arseniev-Koehler also investigated the extent of community formation around eating-disordered expression by examining content from 3,719 followers of these 45 profiles. Followers are described as social connections on Twitter, much like one’s ‘friends’ on Facebook. From this examination, they found that 44.5% of these followers also displayed an interest in eating disorders. To explain further, the profiles with more tweets about eating-disorder related content tended to have more followers who also self-identified as interested in eating disorders.

The findings of this study had a couple different aspects. First, the findings illustrated how profiles which self-identify as Pro-ED may express disordered eating patterns through tweets. The second aspect of their findings suggested that these profiles have an audience of followers, many of whom also reference eating disorders in their own profiles. This study highlighted the extent to which Pro-ED on Twitter is a social rather than individualistic phenomenon. Socialization on Twitter might provide social support, but in the Pro-ED context, this activity might also reinforce an eating disorder focused identity.

URS-team pic
Arseniev-Koehler (center) at the Undergraduate Research Symposium at the University of Washington

Alina Arseniev-Koehler was a member of SMAHRT from 2013 to 2015, and was instrumental in the work done on eating disorders on social media, particularly through the previously summarized “#proana: Pro-eating disorder socialization on Twitter” study. She began her second year in the Sociology PhD program atthe University of California Los Angeles this past fall. This year, she is working on a Master’s research project, for which she is investigating how the portrayal of obesity and overweight has changed over the past three decades in the news media. She gained inspiration for this project from her previous work at SMAHRT and her work with social media and eating disorders, while also presenting an opportunity to apply new theories and methods she has learned at her time at UCLA.

For example, she has been analyzing news articles in her Master’s project with a tool called Word2Vec. Word2Vec uses “machine-learning,” meaning that it is given minimal instruction on how to analyze data, and instead learns to do so itself based on examples of how words are used in the data. This was Arseniev-Koehler’s first experience working intensively with machine-learning, and she loves how it can surprise and challenge human researchers. To illustrate, she found that Word2Vec represented the word “fat” in her news data as a word similar to “carbohydrates” “calories” and “protein.” “Fat” did not mean “overweight” as she expected. This experience has also sparked a larger interest in machine-learning for Arseniev-Koehler. As she learns more about how machine-learning structures our everyday lives, she is now fascinated to see how algorithms can sway our experiences, opportunities, and knowledge. She hopes to incorporate this research direction into her Masters project.

Even though she is only one year into graduate school, her research interests have widened and expanded since arriving; however, her ideas and values are rooted in previous research experiences. Arseniev-Koehler is still navigating how to get the most out of her graduate experience, while learning how to distribute her time across classes, research, and engaging in the larger academic community. This fall, Arseniev-Koehler had the opportunity to serve as a graduate mentor for an undergraduate at UCLA who is embarking on her own research project. Even within Arseniev-Koehler’s program there are many possible directions to explore in terms of research and career, and she is excited to explore these opportunities in the coming years.

Study of the Month

“Cyberbullying Among College Students” Study of the Month


The idea of “bullying” has radically evolved over time. What was once thought to be an aggressive verbal or physical act that primarily happened at school, the introduction of technology and social media has transformed bullying into a phenomenon that can follow adolescents throughout their everyday lives – otherwise known as cyberbullying. With advancements in technology, bullies now have an online platform to reach into victims private spaces at any time of the day, giving them the confidence to be mean and hurtful behind the protection of a screen. This has been leveraged and made easier with networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Cyberbullying in middle school and high school is a well-known issue; but, do these behaviors change when students make the transition from their senior year of high school to their freshman year of college?

In 2011, Rajitha Kota joined the SMAHRT team with the goal of answering this question, and what cyberbullying looks like in the college population. Kota gained interest in the topic because the concept of cyberbullying was getting a lot of media attention, including disturbing news stories about the serious consequences for both bullies and victims. Although she had passion for researching this topic, when starting her study she noticed there was not much information about cyberbullying in college students, and decided to investigate the issue amongst the college population. This interest was studied by Kota and developed into her paper “Cyberbullying Among College Students,” which we are pleased to feature as our February Study of the Month.

Kota (second from left) enjoying time outdoors with fellow SMAHRT colleagues

Kota decided to perform a focus group study and recruited people belonging to groups that are traditionally at-risk for bullying, as well as students from the general population. These at-risk groups included LBGTQ students and racial minorities. Forty-two students participated in the focus group study, and her team used the constant comparative approach to find themes and representative quotations. Kota asked participants questions about their views and perceptions of cyberbullying on campus, as well as examples of cyberbullying they had seen online. Kota explained that one of the most interesting findings to come out of the study was that the college students could not agree on a definition of cyberbullying. Although there was no consensus regarding a definition, the participants did agree that cyberbullying is mostly represented by three scenarios: hacking, airing dirty laundry, and mocking. Kota’s focus group participants gave useful and insightful examples and working definitions of the three scenarios of cyberbullying as previously mentioned. First, hacking involves gaining access to another user’s profile and posting on that profile without the owner’s permission – this is often characterized as occurring between roommates, close friends, or former romantic partners. Second, airing dirty laundry involved disagreements between roommates, romantic partners, or groups of friends, and one member posting about it on social media to shame one member of the relationship. Lastly, mocking involved publically teasing or putting down others based on posted content, such as insulting someone’s posted pictures or posting a picture that would embarrass another student.

“Cyberbullying Among College Students” found that participants generally agreed that bullying among older students could include attacking victims at the level of their beliefs or character, which might be concerning since college can be an important period of identity formation. Those who bully in college may also go on to continue that behavior into adulthood and into the workplace, by manipulating others to gain power or privilege. Therefore, college may be the last critical opportunity to intervene and prevent bullying behavior from occurring.


As mentioned earlier, Rajitha Kota joined SMAHRT in 2011, and this opportunity piqued her interest in adolescent medicine. That interest turned into a passion as Kota plans to work with the adolescent population in the future, and is still interested in the positive ways technology can be used to help this group make healthier choices. She is currently in her fourth year of medical school, planning to go into family medicine upon completion. Kota has fond memories of her time at SMAHRT, and told us it was one of the most enjoyable and formative experiences in her education. Through her time here Kota traveled, created her own research projects, gave an oral presentation at a national conference, mentored an undergraduate student, helped to write a grant for the Justice Department, published tons of papers, and while doing all of this was able to work with some of the most amazing people she has ever known!

Thank you, Rajitha for your dedication to adolescent health and SMAHRT and we cannot wait to see what your future holds. Be on the lookout next month for a new Study of the Month and an update on another SMAHRT alum!


Study of the Month

“Older Adolescents Perceptions of Internet Use” Study of the Month



Our team has had incredible members that have contributed greatly to the research and integrity of the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team – and we do not easily forget them! One of these SMAHRT alumnae is Rosalind Koff, who is currently a Survey Director at the NORC independent research institution at the University of Chicago. She served as an undergraduate Research Intern and Graduate Research Associate at SMAHRT and contributed greatly to the work done on the team. Our alumnae have accomplished so much outside of SMAHRT, and Koff is no exception. We are pleased to feature one of her studies completed while with SMAHRT, “Older Adolescents Perceptions of Internet Use” as our Study of the Month, while also showcasing what Koff has achieved after her time with SMAHRT.

Koff presenting at Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine conference in 2012

How well can we actually quantify our personal internet use? Do we judge this off of assumptions; do we actually quantify the times we spend on our electronics? Koff examined these questions through her study that looked at self-reported internet use; focusing on how often and how long the respondent typically uses the internet each day. As the internet continues to become increasingly pervasive in our daily lives, it becomes a challenge to separate internet use with other parts of our daily lives and/or quantify their own personal internet use. Current perceptions and actual internet use behaviors that are established in older adolescence are likely to follow individuals throughout their adulthood. This is why it is particularly important among the adolescent population to understand their current perceptions and actual behaviors of internet use. Koff’s study found that most users were unable to consistently identify their total estimates of self-reported internet use from their calculated internet use, based on their answers to the questions asked during the study. This is a personal favorite study of Koff’s as this paper hit on everything she loves about the adolescent population and technology, and she was able to use her passion as leverage to conduct this study.

After her time with SMAHRT, Koff started working for a large survey research nonprofit at the University of Chicago where she is still working today. During her first three years at this company, Koff was able to contribute to a variety of different projects through her position as a Survey Operations Analyst. She worked on projects including the National Immunization Survey (CDC), the Survey of Doctorate Recipients (NSF), and U.S. Energy Information Administration (U.S. Department of Energy). Currently, Koff serves as a Survey Director working on the AmeriSpeak Panel, the first U.S. multi-client household panel to combine the speed and cost-effectiveness of panel surveys with enhanced representatives of the U.S. population.

Although Koff’s accomplishments continue to stack up, she still holds a special place in her heart for SMAHRTeam and the SMAHRTies she had to opportunity to work and collaborate with. Koff shared with us that “during my SMAHRT days, my favorite part of work was sitting in our scrum room all together and tossing ideas around to develop new and better practices.” The SMAHRT bond for Koff also reaches far beyond work, as she just recently stood as a bridesmaid in the wedding of a fellow SMAHRT alumna, claiming, “SMAHRTies are colleagues and friends for life!”

Koff (right) and Dr. Megan Moreno (left) celebrating SMAHRT Alum Megan Pumper’s wedding

After examining all of Koff’s accomplishments, you would assume research has always been her niche; however, she actually never imagined herself in a research career until she took advantage of the research opportunity with SMAHRT. She originally joined as a Communications and Gender Studies double major, and started on the team conducting focus groups with underage college students discussing alcohol advertisements. Once her skillset and responsibilities on the team began to grow, she was motivated to enroll in a graduate program at Georgetown University in Communication, Culture and Technology. Now tackling this role at NORC, she continues to apply the skills she learned with her undergraduate experience at SMAHRT. “When I say that working with Megan [Moreno] changed my life – it really did!”