Tumblr Use and Young People’s Queer (Dis)connections

Most recently we had our article on Tumblr use among LGBTIQ+ young people in Australia published in the International Journal of Communication. This article uses data from our survey and interviews to explore the significance and multiple uses of Tumblr among Scrolling Beyond Binaries participants. This includes use of Tumblr for learning and practicing a range of gender/sexual identities, for engaging with and thinking about queer communities, and using Tumblr as a diary, or ‘somewhere to put things.’ We also explore the intensities of Tumblr – both good and bad – where learning and participation was typically intense and important, but where Tumblr also became difficult to the point of many people needing to leave the platform. Throughout the paper we argue that the concept of ‘queer community’ doesn’t map well onto participants’ experiences of Tumblr and so we propose ‘(dis)connection’ as a more useful concept – connecting (but also disconnecting) with other people, but also with the platform, Tumblr content, self, and future possibilities.

Discussing Tumblr (dis)connections, we draw upon Michael Warner’s concept of counterpublics and Sarah Ahmed’s queer phenomenology to argue that Tumblr use is significant to many young people’s negotiations of queerness – both feeling part of, and feeling disconnected from, ‘queer life’. As 16 year old Jacob* says of Tumblr: “You’re in it, but you’re not in it – I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like you’re at a party, but you’re kind of just sitting in the corner; that would be my level of involvement in the Tumblr community.” For others, Tumblr use was part of a process of connecting to self (more so than connecting to others), as per Jasmine* who states: “Tumblr was originally my diary when I was trying to figure out what my gender was, and it was through Tumblr that I figured out what I was, or at least what I wasn’t.” Lastly, we address the issue of ‘Tumblr toxicity’ that was raised by many participants who said this precipitated their departure from the platform. Despite this, most of these participants spoke of Tumblr’s significance to their queer identities and the platform’s ongoing resonance.

The article is freely accessible and can be downloaded here.

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*pseudonyms have been used for all participants.

LGBTIQ+ young people, social media platform affordances and identity curation

We have a new publication out this week, which presents further findings from this study! The paper, published in the journal Media, Culture and Society, is entitled: ‘That’s not necessarily for them’: LGBTIQ+ young people, social media platform affordances and identity curation’.

In this paper, which builds on previous work we have published, we examine how different social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter – are used by LGBTIQ+ young people to explore identity, find support, and manage boundaries.

A news article about the findings can be found here, and you can access a link to the published paper here. Abstract below.

If you would like a copy of the paper please email benjamin.hanckel@kcl.ac.uk

Abstract: 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and other non-heterosexual and gender diverse (LGBTIQ+) young people utilise a range of digital media platforms to explore identity, find support and manage boundaries. Less well understood, however, is how they navigate risk and rewards across the different social media platforms that are part of their everyday lives. In this study, we draw on the concept of affordances, as well as recent work on curation, to examine 23 in-depth interviews with LGBTIQ+ young people about their uses of social media. Our findings show how the affordances of platforms used by LGBTIQ+ young people, and the contexts of their engagement, situate and inform a typology of uses. These practices – focused on finding, building and fostering support – draw on young people’s social media literacies, where their affective experiences range from feelings of safety, security and control, to fear, disappointment and anger. These practices also work to manage boundaries between what is ‘for them’ (family, work colleagues, friends) and ‘not for them’. This work allowed our participants to mitigate risk, and circumnavigate normative platform policies and norms, contributing to queer-world building beyond the self. In doing so, we argue that young people’s social media curation strategies contribute to their health and well-being.

 

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Twenty years of ‘cyberqueer’: The enduring significance of the Internet for young LGBTIQ+ people

It’s been a while since our last update (sorry!) but the good news is we have a new book chapter out now from this project. The chapter is in this terrific looking book out now, Youth, Sexuality and Sexual Citizenship, edited by Peter Aggleton, Rob Cover, Deana Leahy, Daniel Marshall, Mary Lou Rasmussen. Our chapter is titled ‘Twenty years of ‘cyberqueer’: The enduring significance of the Internet for young LGBTIQ+ people’. The chapter was co-authored with my wonderful Scrolling Beyond BinariesStudy colleagues, Brendan Churchill, Son Vivienne, Benjamin Hanckel and Paul Byron. Abstract below. This is our first proper academic publication from the SBB study, and it was great to work with the editors of this book.

Please email brady.robards@monash.edu if you would like a copy. You can also purchase the full book via this link, and use discount code SOC19 for 20% off. Sorry it’s so expensive, but as I said do email me if you are interested.

Abstract:

This chapter reflects on how ‘cyberqueer’ (Wakeford 2000 [1997]) spaces – digitally mediated spaces inhabited by queer people – have changed and evolved over the past twenty years. In doing so, we explore the enduring significance of the internet in the lives of young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people. We draw on data from an Australian survey, and specifically look at different patterns of self-reported gender, sexuality, and social media use across four age cohorts of young LGBTIQ+ people: 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, and 31-35. The findings from this study suggest that many of the productive and significant dimensions of the internet identified by Wakeford for queer users some twenty years ago endure today, albeit in new forms amidst new challenges.

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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.

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