RESEARCH CORNER: The Cost of Doing Business: Social Media Use among Bisexuals and Pansexuals

Dec 8, 2023 | 2024 Winter - Bi+ World Wide Web, Research Corner

Summary of Full article: Social media use among bisexuals and pansexuals: connection, harassment and mental health (tandfonline.com)

By Kallie Strong and Nicola Koper

Studies of LGBT+ individuals and their internet and social media usage have been of particular interest in recent years. We’ve talked before in BWQ about research that has shown the importance of social media in connecting bi+ and other queer people, by providing support and community, and for the importance of virtual social and informational connections in helping folks who are exploring different identities using online educational resources. But this article points out a darker side.

The Australian research study reviewed here looked at the relationship between social media use among groups of LGBT+ people in an attempt to see its connection with harassment and mental health. They compared the experiences of bisexual and pansexual folks, and lesbian and gay folks. In all, 1,304 LGBT+ people, spanning the gender and sexuality spectrums, were surveyed as part of the larger Scrolling Beyond Binaries study for individuals aged 16-35. Social media platforms surveyed included Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Twitter, and Tinder.

All groups of LGBT+ people reported similar motivations for using social media.  However, bisexual and pansexual folks showed higher reported rates of harassment, with 51% of the lesbian and gay group reporting online harassment compared to 63% of bisexual and pansexual respondents. Rates of frequent harassment were also higher for the bisexual and pansexual group. Only one third (33%) of the bisexual and pansexual group reported never experiencing harassment, in comparison with just under half (45%) of the lesbian and gay folks. 

There was a statistically significant association between sexuality and harassment on all platforms except Tinder. Facebook was the site where an individual was most likely to experience harassment, but bisexual and pansexual people were found to be significantly more likely to experience harassment on Tumblr, Snapchat and Instagram as well. The researchers also found that bisexual and pansexual people tended to report poorer mental health experiences on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Tinder. 

Despite this, the participants’ own words highlight the importance of support from online communities in their coming-out journeys. As highlighted in the article, one respondent said, “Yes, I wouldn’t have been able to come out, or even have a name to put to how I felt about my gender and sexuality, if it wasn’t for social media and I think that outweighs the harms I’ve experienced. (19, non-binary, bisexual).” Bisexual and pansexual folks also noted that they expected to experience harassment in online spaces, almost as a “cost of doing business,” and noted that despite that risk, the benefits of building connections with other queer folks were of greater importance than the risks. 

Social media always carries a risk for non-heteronormative and non-cis folks, but all in all, clearly more LGBTQ+ positive spaces, like Bi Women Quarterly, are needed. As we normalize conversations about bi+ and pansexuality across our broader society, we hope that, one day, people with nonbinary sexualities won’t have to risk harassment to make social connections online.

Kallie Strong is an undergraduate student at the University of Manitoba. She lives in Winnipeg with her dog Hobbes.

Nicola Koper is Dean of Environment at the University of Northern British Columbia, in Canada, focusing on increasing equity, diversity, and inclusion in academia and public education.

Article referenced:

Rosie Nelson, Brady Robards, Brendan Churchill, Son Vivienne, Paul Byron & Benjamin Hanckel (2023) Social media use among bisexuals and pansexuals: connection, harassment and mental health, Culture, Health & Sexuality, 25:6, 711-727, 10.1080/13691058.2022.2092213   

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