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New research shows how social media use contributes to health of young LGBTIQ+ people

A new study has explored how turning to the web can help people through gender transition or find comfort in the face of marginalisation and discrimination.

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Social media isn’t just a place to chat, find events and post photos – it can also open up avenues of support. For many LGBTIQ+ young people, online spaces can provide access to important knowledge and information and connect them to others in similar positions.   

King’s Research Fellow Benjamin Hanckel, together with researchers in Australia, interviewed 23 LGBTIQ+ young people to examine how they negotiate visibility, privacy and identity across social media platforms such as Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter. The study provided a better understanding of how these sites are used by young people, and the ways in which this use contributes to health and well-being.      

This study shows how LGBTIQ+ young people use sophisticated social media curation strategies to explore identity and find support, as well as manage boundaries and negotiate risk, across the multiple social media platforms they use. – Benjamin Hanckel, King’s Research Fellow

The study found that participants create supportive spaces online by establishing pseudonymity, unfollowing and unfriending negative people, as well as reporting and blocking hurtful content. This curation allows them to build and foster supportive peer networks to engage in selective disclosures of gender and sexuality.            

Anonymity and the possibility of being identified were significant concerns discussed throughout the interviews. Participants often had a heightened sense of awareness about who could see their content, and they often regulated how anonymous or identifiable they were across the different sites they used.         

Managing multiple social media profiles can also be crucial in managing boundaries: between what is ‘for them’ (family, work colleagues, friends) on some platforms and ‘not for them’ on others. – Benjamin Hanckel, King’s Research Fellow

Participants explained how the functions of social media sites like Facebook enabled them to carefully regulate their visibility to family and friends. Carter, a 26-year-old transgender male stated: “My profile is really locked down … my surname on Facebook is my middle name … I made it as secret as I possibly can, so you can’t even find me if you search.”    

These simple changes online can reduce risk and allow young people to ‘be themselves’ – leading to better health outcomes and a sense of belonging.           

The paper is part of a broader research project ‘Scrolling Beyond Binaries’. The full study is available online.