Adopting a Parasocial Connection to Overcome Professional Kakoethos in Online Health Information

Adopting a Parasocial Connection to Overcome Professional Kakoethos in Online Health Information

Andrew W. Cole (Waukesha County Technical College, USA) and Thomas A. Salek (University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1072-7.ch006
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This chapter approaches online ethos rhetorically to argue that professional medical sources (e.g., practitioners, organizations) must overcome a rhetorically constituted kakoethos in order to influence online health information seekers. Professional medical source kakoethos is established through a lack of identified, authentic personal experience with specific medical conditions, and health information message content that focuses exclusively on the science behind the condition. Conversely, lay health information sources fashion ethos through identifying personal experience with specific medical conditions, and employing emotionally supportive messages. The result is an online health rhetoric appearing credible and authentic. Rhetorically crafting a parasocial connection to online health information seekers may offer a means for professional medical sources to overcome the kakoethos established through lack of personal experience.
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A conception of ethos as credibility is challenged by the (seemingly) anonymous online environment. Frobish (2013) suggested that classic notions of ethos may no longer apply to the online environment because digital ethos suggests that the notion of credibility may be “freed,” or more fluid, in the online environment. However, this chapter contends that Aristotle’s (2007) artistic and inartistic proofs can still aid in conceptualizing and understanding ethos in online health information messages. Artistic proofs concern the dimensions discursively constructed in a text. Conversely, inartistic proofs address elements extrinsic to the text itself. In order to understand credibility in the online environment, the intrinsic (i.e., that which is available to an audience discursively within a text) must be distinguished from the extrinsic (i.e., that which is the subject position of the text’s author). More specifically, as such expertise solely represents inartistic proof, a traditional medical credibility arising from expert power (see French & Raven, 1959), when divorced from the professional setting of a physical medical space (i.e., a doctor’s office), may not necessarily have the same influence to persuade online health information seekers.

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