Is there something queer about Tumblr?

In December 2016 we presented some of the findings from the Scrolling Beyond Binaries project at the ‘Digital Intimacies’ (#digint16) conference in Brisbane, co-convened by Dr Nic Carah, Dr Amy Dobson, and Dr Brady Robards. In the paper we zoom in on Tumblr as a social media platform to ask, is there something queer about Tumblr? Spoiler alert: yes!

Our abstract/summary and slides from the presentation are below. We are currently working to convert some of this material into a longer piece of writing, so stay tuned for more!

Tumblr as a ‘queer ecosystem’ amongst young LGBTIQ+ people in Australia

Presenting author: Brady Robards (University of Tasmania)
Co-authors: Paul Byron, Brendan Churchill, Sonja Vivienne, Ben Hanckel

For young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) people, the internet has long been considered a valuable resource for finding connections, friendship, and a sense of belonging in heteronormative and sometimes hostile worlds. For young LGBTIQ+ people in regional and rural areas, where access to visibly queer spaces (bars, parades) and services (sexual health clinics, mental health services) is limited, digital social media provide a potentially even more significant resource. In the Scrolling Beyond Binaries survey, we sought to better understand the role of social media in the lives of young LGBTIQ+ people. Our respondents (n=1304), aged 16-35, reported using a range of social media platforms, including Facebook (97%), Instagram (70%), Snapchat (67%), and Tumblr (64%). In other research on social media use among the general population, Tumblr use is three to six times lower (Pew Internet Research, 2015). This suggests that Tumblr plays a significant role as what Cho (2015) calls a ‘queer ecosystem’.

In this paper, we argue that Tumblr provides a space for sourcing information on sex, gender and sexuality identities, sexual health, and LGBTIQ+ cultures. The anonymity of the platform supports this information seeking, providing a feeling of safety for many young people. However, many participants also reported that this anonymity also contributed to what they described as a sometimes ‘toxic environment’. Respondents also report that Tumblr is most used to ‘communicate with people who are like me’, more so than for Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, which tend to be centred around existing local networks. This suggests that Tumblr is not only a space of intimate communications, but is a key space for identity practice and formation, where one’s peers are present, despite geographic limitations, including for young people living in regional and rural locations. Participants who grew dissatisfied with their Tumblr communities and experiences speak of leaving this space, but often clarified its importance for them at a particular time of their lives. For many, Tumblr is cast as a beginning for identity-work around diverse genders and sexualities, where users became exposed to a range of queer and gender diverse identity projects, and could access a range of people offering their experienced based knowledge of these. We draw on Cho’s (2015) formulations of Tumblr as a ‘queer ecosystem’, and the notion of ‘queer reverb’, to contextualise our empirical work.

Keywords: gender diversity, LGBTIQ, queer, sexuality, social media, youth.

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3 month update and preliminary results

The Scrolling Beyond Binaries survey has been open for three months now, and we have had over 1200 responses! Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to complete the survey and circulate it. This great response and the depth that many respondents went into when answering open-ended questions really demonstrates for us the significance of this kind of research, and that young LGBTIQ+ Australians have something to say about the role of social media in their lives. Social media help us connect, tell stories about ourselves, and find people like us in a world that isn’t always friendly or welcoming for young queer and gender diverse people.

While we are going to keep the survey open, our attention now turns to the next parts of the project. First, we will continue analysing the survey data, and we have a very preliminary report on some of this data here. Second, we are also now moving into the qualitative phase of the project where we interview some of the people who volunteered at the end of the survey. We currently have 145 volunteers!

So what have we found from the survey thus far?

In this post I am going to briefly outline some preliminary key findings around social media use, and also give some basic demographic data on our respondents. Stay tuned for further blog posts on a range of different topics related to the project. We are also working on more academic writing – journal articles and book chapters – that we will share here when available.

Who are our participants?

Our sample is definitely skewed towards the younger end of our age range, with almost half of our respondents falling into the 16 or 17 year old bracket.

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Age of respondents

Why might we have more younger participants than older ones? Did our survey just find its way to more teenagers? Perhaps teenagers have more to say about social media? Maybe LGBTIQ+ people in their twenties and thirties have less time, less interest, or perhaps feel less included in the ‘youth’ category, or maybe they are sick of surveys. We know many LGBTIQ+ people are ‘over-researched’. We’ll be reflecting more on this as we go.

In terms of gender identity, almost half of our respondents identified as female (45%), and around a quarter as male (26%). What is really interesting is the number of people who identify as non-binary (20%) or chose to define their own identities (9%).

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Gender identities of respondents

When it comes to sexuality, we also have a really diverse set of identities. 34% identified as lesbian, gay, or homosexual; 25% as bisexual; 18% as queer, and a considerable 20% chose to define their own sexuality. I’ve written about some of this in a previous post, but we have much more to say about this in the future. We also had a small group (3%) of respondents who identified as straight or heterosexual.
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Sexualities of respondents

In terms of where our respondents are in Australia, as expected there were concentrations in big cities or urban areas (65%), but we also had a good number of respondents who describe themselves as living in regional (25%) or rural (10%) areas. In the heat map below, you can see where our respondents were mostly concentrated. We had a good number of respondents outside the capital cities, but I haven’t included locations of single respondents in more regional areas to protect their anonymity.

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Heat map of respondents

 

What social media are they using?

Overwhelmingly, Facebook is the most dominant form of social media. Almost all (97%) reported using Facebook, with Instagram (70%), Snapchat (67%), Tumblr (64%), and Twitter (49%) following. YouTube is a curious one, as 84% of our respondents reported using it, but 75% of those YouTube users reported using it just to watch or listen, rather than actively producing content or even writing comments themselves. We will have much more to say on this in the future too.

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Most popular forms of social media

Hook-up or dating apps play an important role in the social media landscape for many young LGBTIQ+ people in Australia. Tinder was the most popular (21%), followed by Grindr (11%), OkCupid (7%), Her (6%), Scruff (5%), and a range of others. One of the interesting findings we want to explore further is the role of hook-up or dating apps as platforms for finding friends, which many of our respondents reported. We will also be looking at the use of hook-up or dating apps in relation to different gender identities and sexualities: Do gay men use hook-up apps more? What kind of hook-up apps do non-binary and trans people use? We can look at a range of factors including relationship status and time spent on each platform to answer some interesting questions here.

We also asked respondents which (if any) platforms they felt ‘always connected’ to. While Facebook was still on top here (79%), Snapchat was second (38%). We are in the process of looking at how variables like age, sexuality, and gender identity might have an impact on this sense of feeling always connected, and what this might mean for a broader sense of belonging, community, or experiences of abuse and harassment, which we also asked about.

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‘Always connected’

That’s all for now, but I hope this gives you a little sneak peak into some of the data we’ve been looking at. What I’ve covered here no doubt raises many many more questions than it answers, so stay tuned for more. If you want to get updates on future posts and news, please subscribe by entering your email address into the form on the right.

Thanks for reading!

Cheers,
Brady

One month in and the ‘+’ in LGBTIQ+

The Scrolling Beyond Binaries survey has been out for four weeks now, and we’ve had a terrific response! Today we passed the 700 responses mark, largely from ‘organic’ shares (people sharing the survey amongst their own networks). We only just started with paid advertisements last week to diversify the sample, and we will continue with those efforts over the next few weeks. Thanks to everyone who has completed the survey and shared it with their own networks!

One issue that has come up is around what is actually included in the ‘+’ in LGBTIQ+. For instance, does it include asexual or pan folk? How about people who are not sure? The short answer is: yes! We want to include everyone. Here’s the longer answer:

We have used the ACON measures on gender and sexuality to line up with other survey data here, so we have points of comparison, but of course none of these measures are perfect. Putting the broad and terrific diversity of LGBTIQ+ (including questioning, pan, and asexual) folks into a series of check-boxes does not always work! That’s why we added in open text fields where people can state their own identities (or combinations of identities) in their own terms, and we go through and manually code those later.

When it comes to sexuality, almost 20% of survey respondents have taken up this option, which is great! It gives us lots of info on the complex, non-binary, and still-emerging ways people identify.

Of that 20% who have chosen how to identify themselves in their own terms (haven’t used the check-boxes), here is what we have already found (and the survey continues on!):

  • half of those who used the ‘other’ field included being pansexual (about 10% of the wider sample);
  • around one quarter (or about 4% of the wider sample) have included being asexual in their identities, often in combination with other terms;
  • the remaining folks who used the ‘other’ field talked about a whole range of identities related to sexuality, like being demi-, poly-, or rejecting labels altogether. My favourite response here thus far is: *vague hand gestures*

At the end of the day, statistics can be powerful and help us to identify social patterns, but they can also be problematic in that they rely on grouping people together into common categories. Our job is to make sense of this, and our aim is to shine a light on the wonderfully diverse and binary-busting data we’ve already got here. Thanks again for all the responses, shares, and feedback!

Cheers,
Brady

Survey Launch

Today we officially launched our survey, and already we have had over 100 responses in just a few hours! Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to share your insights and experiences with us. We really appreciate it.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SBBproject

We’ll share some preliminary results and findings here over the next few months.

Cheers,
Brady and Brendan