At various times, it's been thought that the following things, among others, were bad for you: Facebook, video games, online forums, rock 'n roll and reading by firelight.
Could be, but a new study exonerates online forums, finding that they have positive links to well-being and are associated with increased community engagement offline.
Research just published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that online forums have benefits for both individuals and wider society and are of greater importance than previously realized.
Although seemingly eclipsed in the past decade by social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, forums are still regularly used by around 10% of online users in the UK and 20% in the US.
The study's authors say the apparent benefits derive partly from the fact that forums are one of the few remaining online spaces that offer anonymous interaction.
"Often we browse forums just hoping to find answers to our questions," said lead author Dr. Louise Pendry of the University of Exeter. "In fact, as well as finding answers, our study showed users often discover that forums are a source of great support, especially those seeking information about more stigmatising conditions."
Pendry said the study found that online forum users were also more likely to get involved in related activities offline, such as volunteering, donating or campaigning."
"In a nutshell, the more users put into the forum, the more they get back, and the pay-off for both users themselves and society at large can be significant," said Dr. Jessica Salvatore of Sweet Briar College in Virginia.
In the study, users were approached on a range of online discussion forums catering to a variety of interests, hobbies and lifestyles. Those recruited to the study were classified in two groups: those whose forum subject could be considered stigmatized (such as those dealing with mental health issues, postnatal depression or a particular parenting choice for example) or non-stigma-related forums (such as those for golfers, bodybuilders and environmental issues).
They were asked a set of questions relating to their motivations for joining the discussion forum, the fulfilment of their expectations, their identification with other forum users, their satisfaction with life and their offline engagement with issues raised on the forum.
The study is published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.