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Social Media + Society
January-March 2021: 1 –13
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Social media can be broadly defined as a communication for-
mat wherein individuals set up profiles, generate content,
and/or interact and maintain connections with other users via
online platforms or other digital mediums (e.g., apps) (Carr
& Hayes, 2015; Ellison et al., 2007). Participants may use
social media to interact with people they already know, and
as a means to meet new people. It is also used as a mecha-
nism to consume media content and engage in a range of
other activities that vary based on the specific site (Buehler,
2017; Byron et al., 2019; Ellison et al., 2007). Prevalent
examples of social media sites include Facebook, Twitter,
Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. Nearly all youth in the
United States use at least one social media platform
(Anderson & Jiang, 2018). In 2018, 85% of adolescents (age
13–17) in the United States used YouTube. Large majorities
also used Instagram (72%), Snapchat (69%), and Facebook
(51%; Anderson & Jiang, 2018). Youth (i.e., adolescents and
young adults) are especially prevalent users of social media
and use such sites to aid in their identity development—
including their gender identity and sexual orientation—dur-
ing their formative years (Alhabash & Ma, 2017; Craig &
988931SMSXXX10.1177/2056305121988931Social Media <span class="symbol" cstyle="Mathematical">+</span> SocietyCraig et al.
1University of Toronto, Canada
2The Ohio State University, USA
Shelley L. Craig, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of
Toronto, 246 Bloor Street W., Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 1V4.
Emails: email@example.com; @INQYR_
Can Social Media Participation
Enhance LGBTQ+ Youth Well-Being?
Development of the Social Media
Shelley L. Craig1, Andrew D. Eaton1, Lauren B. McInroy2,
Vivian W. Y. Leung1, and Sreedevi Krishnan1
Social media sites offer critical opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and other sexual and/or gender minority
(LGBTQ+) youth to enhance well-being through exploring their identities, accessing resources, and connecting with peers. Yet
extant measures of youth social media use disproportionately focus on the detrimental impacts of online participation, such as
overuse and cyberbullying. This study developed a Social Media Benefits Scale (SMBS) through an online survey with a diverse
sample (n = 6,178) of LGBTQ+ youth aged 14–29. Over three-quarters of the sample endorsed non-monosexual and/or and
gender fluid identities (e.g., gender non-conforming, non-binary, pansexual, bisexual). Participants specified their five most used
social media sites and then indicated whether they derived any of 17 beneficial items (e.g., feeling connected, gaining information)
with the potential to enhance well-being from each site. An exploratory factor analysis determined the scale’s factor structure.
Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and Sheffe post hoc tests examined age group differences. A four-factor solution emerged that
measures participants’ use of social media for: (1) emotional support and development, (2) general educational purposes, (3)
entertainment, and (4) acquiring LGBTQ+-specific information. Bartlett’s test of sphericity was significant (χ2 = 40,828, p < .0005)
and the scale had an alpha of .889. There were age group differences for all four factors (F = 3.79–75.88, p < .05). Younger
adolescents were generally more likely to use social media for beneficial factors than older youth. This article discusses the
scale’s development, exploratory properties, and implications for research and professional practice.
LGBTQ+ youth, well-being, social media, factor analysis, scale development
2 Social Media + Society
Studies have been mixed regarding the effect of social
media on young people. Recent investigations have found
social media to have a beneficial (Verduyn et al., 2017),
harmful (Reer et al., 2019), or negligible (Utz & Breuer,
2017) relationship with well-being. For youth and young
adults, increased social media use has been found to have a
positive impact on life satisfaction (Wheatley & Buglass,
2019), and Instagram in particular has been identified as
benefiting overall well-being (Pittman & Reich, 2016).
Conversely, Kross et al. (2013) found that Facebook use
predicted a decline in life satisfaction and affect in young
adults. A recent study of Chinese adolescents (n = 1,319)
identified that social media use had a positive effect on well-
being, although this effect was suppressed by social over-
load and moderated by participants “fear of missing out” on
what they saw happening on social media, suggesting that
the indirect and direct effects of social media have an impor-
tant impact on well-being (Chai et al., 2019).
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and other sexual and/or
gender minority (LGBTQ+) youth identify significant bene-
fits from engagement with social media, as well as other
Internet-enabled technologies (Craig et al., 2015). While
research comparing their use to their non-LGBTQ+ peers is
limited, research has suggested LGBTQ youth may spend
significantly more time online (Steinke et al., 2017). Fox and
Ralston (2016) suggest that social media serves as informal
learning environments for LGBTQ+ youth during their iden-
tity developmental processes. As LGBTQ+ identities remain
highly stigmatized, social media sites provide youth with
critical opportunities to explore, label, and practice disclos-
ing their emerging LGBTQ+ identities; control and rehearse
their social interactions; as well as access identity-specific
resources (Craig & McInroy, 2014; DeHaan et al., 2013;
Downing, 2013; Duguay, 2016a; McInroy et al., 2019a).
Even engaging more passively with social media (such as
watching LGBTQ+ YouTube content) enables individuals to
learn about identity-specific issues and be inspired in their
coming out process, increasing identity confidence (Fox &
Social media facilitates identity construction and commu-
nication by allowing LGBTQ+ youth to curate their online
presence in a context characterized by relative safety (i.e.,
users can block or accept whomever they choose) and con-
trol over anonymity (i.e., users can choose how much [if any]
of their life is made public) (Craig et al., 2020; Downing,
2013). The comparative anonymity available online facili-
tates opportunities for youth to develop and explore their
LGBTQ+ identities in ways not feasible in offline communi-
ties (McInroy & Craig, 2015). Anonymous social media
activities ensure that participants’ emerging LGBTQ+ identi-
ties are protected from premature disclosure and from
socially significant individuals (e.g., friends, family) who
may not be accepting (Craig et al., 2015). Recent research
finds that LGBTQ+ youth are able to engage in self-expres-
sion by curating their profiles and navigating unwanted com-
ments and advances, which they are unable to do to the same
extent in their offline lives (Alhabash & Ma, 2017; Craig
et al., 2020). The interactive nature of social media enables a
closer investigation of the ways that LGBTQ+ identities and
experiences are constructed and communicated using tech-
nology (Bond & Figueroa-Caballero, 2016).
For LGBTQ+ youth, online community engagement
enhances well-being. Participation in online communities
may allow LGBTQ+ youth to access role models who share
their experiences, as well as seek emotional and social sup-
port (Gomillion & Giuliano, 2011; McInroy et al., 2019a,
2019b). As individuals become more comfortable with their
identity, they may engage in sharing LGBTQ+ content and
participate in educating and supporting other LGBTQ+ peo-
ple within their online networks (McInroy et al., 2019b). Fox
and Ralston’s (2016) research found that youth were able to
use social media as a bridge to access resources within their
offline communities while minimizing potential risks, mak-
ing local LGBTQ+ populations more visible to young peo-
ple—particularly in rural communities. The Internet is
perceived by LGBTQ+ youth as an efficient way to address
gaps in identity-specific information (e.g., to access sexual
health resources), as well as an effective means of learning
about offline services and events (DeHaan et al., 2013).
Duguay (2016b) analyzed tweets (n = 68,231) generated dur-
ing Toronto’s 2014 WorldPride festival and found that social
media enabled users to build global networks of support
around the event by creating WorldPride hashtags, utilizing
common visuals and raising awareness of LGBTQ+ experi-
ence. Another study found that LGBTQ+ Twitter users lever-
aged “social creativity” in their response to the Pulse shooting
by countering threats to their identities by supporting unity in
the presence of threat (Jenkins et al., 2019). In particular, the
collective LGBTQ+ response on Twitter contributed to “cre-
ative identity (re)construction, creative community building,
and creative resistance” (Jenkins et al., 2019, p. 14). Overall,
social media allows LGBTQ+ youth to explore their identi-
ties and social relationships, access resources, and curate
their own mode of self-expression while controlling their
degree of self-disclosure.
A Social Media Benefits Scale
Current instruments that assess youth social media focus on
problematic use (van den Eijnden et al., 2016), such as
addiction (Al-Menayes, 2015) and the debilitating impacts
of social media on sleep quality and mental health (e.g.,
anxiety, depression) in the general youth population (Woods
& Scott, 2016)—as well as among a sample of 1,391
LGBTQ+ youth and adults with a mean age of 25 (Han
et al., 2019). In research, well-being generally refers to
overall quality of life (Rees et al., 2010), including the state
Craig et al. 3
of being comfortable, happy, and healthy (Oxford Online
Dictionary, 2020). Existing measures assessing youth well-
being utilize items regarding social support, perception of
self, interactions with others, and one’s sense of safety and
accomplishment (Hymel & Greenberg, 1998; Kern et al.,
2016; Land et al., 2011). These scales focus on offline envi-
ronments and are primarily constructed as self-report,
Likert-type scales (Hymel & Greenberg, 1998; Kern et al.,
2016; Land et al., 2011).
Youth well-being online—including social connected-
ness and personality development—has started to be
explored, with a direction for future research being a mea-
sure of how youth populations may enhance well-being
through online engagement, including via social media
(James et al., 2017). Scales that assess well-being (i.e., posi-
tive effects) from social media in young adults tend to focus
on outcomes such as political engagement (Gil de Zúñiga
et al., 2014). For LGBTQ+ issues, scales have been devel-
oped in studies of social media, such as a scale to assess
attitudes from non-LGBTQ+ people toward LGBTQ+ imag-
ery (Hefner et al., 2015). Yet, current research does not iden-
tify the particular motivations and benefits afforded to
LGBTQ+ youth via social media participation. Given
research indicating that social media provides a breadth of
important opportunities and positive impacts for many
LGBTQ+ youth (Craig & McInroy, 2014; Hanckel et al.,
2019), this study sought to explore more specifically the
benefits of social media for this population and develop a
Social Media Benefits Scale (SMBS).
The data source is Project #Queery, an online study of
LGBTQ+ youth from the United States and Canada. Project
#Queery utilized Qualtrics, a web-based survey platform, for
data collection during March–July 2016. As this study asked
about social media platforms available during spring–sum-
mer 2016, recent changes such as the worldwide launch of
TikTok in mid-2018 and the Tumblr porn purge in late 2018
(Ashley, 2019) are not integrated. The study received ethics
approval from the University of Toronto’s Health Sciences
Research Ethics Board (Protocol #31769), and the study pro-
tocol has been published (Craig et al., 2017).
Although research related to social media indicates the
potential utility of social media for LGBTQ+ youth
(Downing, 2013; Fox & Ralston, 2016), emerging literature
suggests that different types of platforms may be preferred
by particular sub-populations of LGBTQ+ youth—resulting
in specific patterns of utilization (McInroy et al., 2019a).
This study sought to explore the specific motivations for uti-
lization of and benefits derived from social media through
the development of a psychometric measure to assess social
media’s ability to provide access to beneficial activities with
the potential to enhance well-being among LGBTQ+ youth.
To that end, this study aims to answer three questions:
1. What are the frequencies of site usage among
2. Why do LGBTQ+ youth use social media?
3. How can social media’s benefits enhance LGBTQ+
The inclusion criteria were as follows: (1) self-identified as
LGBTQ+, (2) aged 14–29, and (3) resided in the United
States or Canada. A total of 6,309 individuals responded to
the mixed-methods online survey. Participants who skipped
the social media questions were eliminated (n = 313; 4.96%).
This resulted in a final sample of 6,178 LGBTQ+ youth.
Respondents ranged in age from 14 to 29 (M = 18.21,
SD = 3.61); most of the participants were in the 14–18 age
group (n = 4,140; 65.4%). Details of respondents’ demo-
graphics can be found in Table 1. In terms of sexual orienta-
tion, the largest group was pansexual (28.8%), followed by
bisexual (25.9%) and queer (21.1%). For gender identity, a
majority of participants self-identified as women (41.1%),
followed by gender non-conforming youth (33.5%). Most
Table 1. Demographics of Sample (N = 6,178).
14–18 4,140 65.4
19–24 1,629 26.4
25–29 509 8.2
Pansexual 1,782 28.8
Bisexual 1,602 25.9
Queer 1,305 21.1
Gay 970 15.7
Lesbian 968 15.7
Asexual 691 11.2
Not sure 398 6.3
Woman/female 2,539 41.1
Gender non-conforming 2,168 33.5
Man/male 1,051 17.0
Transgender 909 14.7
White 4,930 79.8
Hispanic 502 8.1
Multi-racial 453 7.3
American-Indian 321 5.2
Asian 318 5.1
African-American 252 4.1
Middle Eastern 62 1.0
4 Social Media + Society
participants were Caucasian (79.8%). The questions inquir-
ing about sexual orientation, gender identity, and race/eth-
nicity were not mutually exclusive (i.e., participants could
report multiple identities).
Respondents were recruited using online strategies through
three channels. First, e-Flyers were sent to organizations that
served LGBTQ+ youth in all states and provinces. Second,
recruitment notices were posted on various online platforms,
including a range of social media sites (e.g., Facebook,
Instagram, Twitter, Reddit). Third, paid advertisements were
posted on Facebook and Instagram. Respondents accessed
the survey in Qualtrics survey software through the hyper-
link in the e-Flyers and recruitment posts, where they could
start responding to the survey after indicating informed con-
sent. The survey took approximately 30–45 min to complete.
At the end of the survey, respondents could indicate their
intent to participate in a raffle for prizes such as an iPad or
e-gift cards of different values. The survey completion rate
Social Media Benefits. Respondents’ motivations for use of
their five favorite social media sites were measured via a two-
step question which included 17 individual items relating to
helpful engagement and impact of engagement on each of
their favorite platforms (see Table 2). In the absence of an
existing scale to assess how LGBTQ+ youth use social media
in positive ways, scale items were developed through a litera-
ture review, interviews with LGBTQ+ youth (Craig et al.,
2015; McInroy & Craig, 2015), and consultation with a youth
advisory board consisting of LGBTQ+ youth from the United
States and Canada. Items such as feeling connected and
Table 2. Social Media Benefit Items According to Platform.
Site NFeel loved
Facebook 4,732 11.1 5.7 21.7 14.8 24.1 11.6 15.1 67.1 72.2
Twitter 1,061 12.9 10.9 17.7 19.9 31.0 15.5 21.9 58.2 64.5
Kik 862 29.6 8.6 34.1 25.8 15.1 14.0 4.8 65.0 40.1
Snapchat 3,243 17.1 5.3 6.8 12.3 39.6 6.0 13.1 63.9 66.9
Instagram 3,288 22.7 13.2 14.2 19.4 38.4 18.9 26.5 59.0 58.5
Tumblr 3,728 32.4 34.2 39.2 57.9 48.3 53.8 45.8 65.5 69.5
Reddit 583 4.6 8.6 24.4 25.0 21.4 20.6 16.6 37.2 67.9
Spotify 1,605 8.5 22.7 0.6 53.4 1.4 8.7 22.4 16.1 42.7
YouTube 4,736 14.7 20.6 8.9 38.9 10.8 25.2 15.0 35.3 69.6
Pinterest 869 3.5 6.0 4.7 23.4 3.8 10.4 17.8 14.3 61.9
Wikipedia 4,736 0 3.8 2.1 4.9 0 7.0 7.0 6.3 35.3
Site NEntertained When
Facebook 4,732 65.6 43.7 55.5 8.5 13.8 33.3 41.8 37.5 8.5
Twitter 1,061 64.7 33.1 54.2 22.1 5.7 31.8 36.5 44.5 2.5
Kik 862 34.9 14.7 11.4 9.5 7.0 11.9 10.7 6.4 12.9
Snapchat 3,243 75.8 32.5 10.3 2.4 4.6 8.1 6.6 13.5 3.5
Instagram 3,288 69.5 35.9 20.6 6.0 3.3 22.2 30.5 42.7 4.6
Tumblr 3,728 83.5 42.1 66.7 44.5 13.4 63.3 71.9 54.6 2.8
Reddit 583 78.9 37.6 77.4 52.3 10.8 55.9 45.5 14.9 2.1
Spotify 1,605 86.0 38.8 3.9 1.5 3.7 7.8 1.4 6.2 5.8
YouTube 4,736 92.4 29.7 62.4 45.2 12.0 53.9 48.8 42.6 2.1
Pinterest 869 65.1 30.4 63.8 29.8 48.6 57.2 18.4 9.2 4.7
Wikipedia 4,736 30.5 11.8 92.5 77.4 13.6 61.3 34.3 3.5 0.4
Craig et al. 5
helping others emerged primarily from the literature (Hanckel
et al., 2019), whereas “figuring out where I fit” and “sharing
my story” came from the authors’ qualitative work with
LGBTQ+ youth (Craig et al., 2015; McInroy & Craig, 2015)
and items regarding LGBTQ+ information and celebrities/
groups were identified by a youth advisory board. This scale is
designed in such a way that higher scores indicate that youths’
social media use may, at least in part, be motivated by these
items with the potential to enhance their well-being, such as
feeling supported (Hanckel et al., 2019) and feeling connected
(Hockin-Boyers et al., 2020). Adversely, lower scores could
suggest that youth’s social media participation on their favor-
ite platforms is not motivated by these potential well-being-
enhancing benefits. A separate scale would be needed to assess
for negative social media factors (or harms) such as cyberbul-
lying or the default public nature of many platforms that may
cause LGBTQ+ youth to unintentionally out themselves to
family (Cho, 2017) as they differ from well-being benefits.
Question Step 1. Respondents were first asked to indicate
their five favorite sites (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, YouTube,
Tumblr) from an exhaustive list of platforms available at the
time of study; the question was “Please choose your FIVE
Question Step 2. For each of their five favorite sites, par-
ticipants were then asked “Why do you use [favorite site
name]?” There were 17 check-box response options for this
question, including self-reflection, gaining information, and
feeling connected (see Table 2 for all items). Respondents
were able to check all the boxes that reflected their beneficial
purposes for using that particular favorite site. For each of
the 17 benefit items, data were coded as “1” (used the site
for this item) if the respondents checked the box, and “0”
(did not use the site for this item) if the respondents did not
check the box.
To obtain each individual’s combined score for each ben-
efit item, the values of all five favorite sites for each benefit
item were summed. This coding resulted in 17 combined
scores from 0 to 5: a combined score of 0 reflects that the
respondent did not use any of their five favorite sites for that
benefit item, and a score of 5 reflects that the respondent
used all five of their favorite sites for the specific item. A
higher score, therefore, indicates a more substantive use of
social media sites for that particular benefit item. Cronbach’s
alpha of the scale is .889. The procedure of coding and deriv-
ing the 17 items is presented in Figure 1.
Demographic Variables. Demographic variables include age
group (age 14–18, 19–24, and 25–29; ordinal), sexual orien-
tation (one binary variable for each identity; yes/no), gender
identity (one binary variable for each identity; yes/no), and
race and ethnicity.
Descriptive statistics for each item were obtained according
to the social media platform. An exploratory factor analysis
Figure 1. Flowchart of the procedure of coding and deriving scale items.
6 Social Media + Society
(EFA) was conducted in SPSS to understand the factor struc-
ture of the SMBS. Using unweighted least squares extraction
method, the extraction of factors stopped when eigen-
value < 1; oblique rotation was used. Factor scores were pro-
duced through the factor analysis, and these factor scores
were subsequently used for analysis of age group differ-
ences. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and post hoc tests
(Sheffe) were conducted to examine whether LGBTQ+
youth of different age groups used social media for different
Benefits of Social Media Platform
Table 2 shows the percentage of LGBTQ+ youth respondents
who indicated that each platform was among their five favor-
ites and which they used for each specific benefit item. For
example, 11.1% of the youth who chose Facebook as one of
their favorites (n = 4,732) indicated that they used Facebook
because it helped them feel loved.
As shown in Table 3, each item of the SMBS ranges from 0
to 5. The item “to be entertained” has the highest mean
(M = 3.51), followed by “because I’m bored” (M = 2.97). The
item “helps me plan” has the lowest mean (M = 0.49), fol-
lowed by “makes me feel stronger” (M = 0.70). The means
reflect to what degree LGBTQ+ youth use social media for
that particular benefit item: for example, a mean of 1.98 for
“give me information” reflects that, on average, each youth
uses approximately two different platforms to obtain infor-
mation. Hence, even though the means are comparatively
low for items like “makes me feel stronger,” the fact that the
average is close to 1 means that each participant uses around
one platform for that item on average.
To explore the factor structure of the SMBS, an EFA using
unweighted least squares extraction method and oblique
rotation was conducted. It was performed on the 17 items of
the SMBS scale for the 6,178 participants who did not have
any missing data in this scale. Bartlett’s test of sphericity is
significant (χ2 = 40,828, p < .0005), meaning that the correla-
tion matrix is significantly different from identity matrix
(i.e., the correlations among items are not zero).
Based on the eigenvalue (extraction stopped when eigen-
value < 1), a four-factor solution emerged (with factor load-
ing greater than .30), which explained 50.42% of the common
variances. The factor loadings are presented in Table 4. The
first factor comprises eight items, which measured LGBTQ+
youth’s usage of social media for emotional support and
development. The second factor consists of four items, which
indicates LGBTQ+ youths’ use of social media for general
educational purposes. The third factor contains three items,
which represents participants’ use of social media for enter-
tainment or “killing time.” The last factor consists of two
items, which measures youth’s usage of social media for
LGBTQ+ specific information.
Age Group Differences
To examine the age group differences of youths’ beneficial
use of social media, four ANOVAs were conducted (pre-
sented in Table 5). Results show that there are age group dif-
ferences for all four factors (F = 3.79–75.88, p < .05). Sheffe
Table 3. Descriptive Statistics of Scale Items.
Item NMinimum Maximum M SD
For self-reflection 6,178 0 5 0.95 1.09
Because I’m bored 6,178 0 5 2.97 1.58
To be entertained 6,178 0 5 3.51 1.32
Gives me information 6,178 0 5 1.98 1.23
Makes me feel connected 6,178 0 5 2.36 1.36
Just helps me deal with life 6,178 0 5 1.40 1.24
Answers my questions 6,178 0 5 1.04 0.98
Helps me plan 6,178 0 5 0.49 0.77
While I’m waiting 6,178 0 5 1.61 1.50
Makes me feel loved 6,178 0 5 0.80 1.01
Lets me share my story 6,178 0 5 1.19 1.16
Lets me help others 6,178 0 5 0.77 0.98
Lets me learn new things 6,178 0 5 1.65 1.24
Helps me figure out where I fit 6,178 0 5 0.97 1.06
Makes me feel stronger 6,178 0 5 0.70 0.95
Access LGBTQ+ information 6,178 0 5 1.64 1.29
Follow LGBTQ+ celebrities and/or groups 6,178 0 5 1.44 1.37
Craig et al. 7
post hoc tests show that youth aged 14–18 were more likely
to use social media for emotional support and development
than those aged 19–24 (p < .0005) and that those aged 19–24
were more likely to use social media for emotional support
and development than those aged 25–29 (p < .0005). For gen-
eral education, youth aged 14–18 had significantly lower
scores than those aged 19–24 (p = .024). Youth aged 14–18
were more likely to use social media for entertainment than
those aged 19–24 (p = .042), and those aged 19–24 had sig-
nificantly higher score than those aged 25–29 (p < .0005).
Finally, the youngest age group were also more likely to use
social media for LGBTQ+ information than the other two
age groups (p < .0005), and those aged 19–24 had higher
scores than those aged 25–29 (p < .0005). In general, the
results demonstrate that younger adolescents were more
likely to use social media for emotional support, entertain-
ment, and access to LGBTQ+ information—and that use
decreased as age increased. Youth between ages 19 and 24
were more likely than other two groups to access general
educational opportunities through social media.
This study provides meaningful insight into the potential
benefits derived from social media use among LGBTQ+
youth and presents the SMBS—which has promise for mea-
suring the positive impacts of social media on this popula-
tion, and potentially other similarly stigmatized groups (Fox
& Ralston, 2016; McInroy et al., 2019a). The purpose of this
study was to develop the SMBS and—as part of that pro-
cess—begin to identify potential well-being-enhancing
dimensions related to social media usage for LGBTQ+
youth. The results indicate that social media benefits can be
conceptualized as multidimensional (i.e., emotional support
and development; general education; entertainment; iden-
tity-specific information) as it relates to their social media
Table 4. Factor Loading of Scale Items for Four-Factor Solution (Loadings Under .30 Are Hidden).
Item Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3 Factor 4
Makes me feel loved .814
Makes me feel stronger .736
Lets me help others .668
Just helps me deal with life .637
Helps me figure out where I fit .618
Lets me share my story .595
For self-reflection .492
Makes me feel connected .468
Gives me information .780
Answers my questions .731
Helps me learn new things .644
Helps me plan .459
Because I’m bored .807
To be entertained .669
While I’m waiting .463
Access LGBTQ+ information .837
Follow LGBTQ+ celebrities and/or groups .806
Factor 1: Emotional support and development; Factor 2: General education; Factor 3: Entertainment; Factor 4: LGBTQ+ information.
Table 5. Results of Age Group Comparison for Social Media Benefits.
Factor Age group F
(n = 4,140)
(n = 1,629)
(n = 509)
Emotional support and development 0.09 (0.97) –0.11 (0.86) –0.38 (0.78) 75.88**
Information –0.02 (0.92) 0.05 (0.91) –0.01 (0.85) 3.79*
Entertainment 0.05 (0.88) –0.02 (0.87) –0.32 (0.82) 39.18**
LGBTQ Information 0.06 (0.94) –0.06 (0.88) –0.28 (0.76) 37.87**
*p < .05; **p < .0005.
8 Social Media + Society
use and has implications for research and professional prac-
tice (e.g., psychology, social work, counseling).
Social Media’s Effect on LGBTQ+ Youth Well-
First, the findings from this study support the emerging
understanding that social media can have a positive effect on
LGBTQ+ youth well-being. Extant research has focused dis-
proportionately on negative effects of social media participa-
tion, identifying social media’s potential to increase anxiety,
depression, and stress, as well as lower self-esteem and other
aspects of mental well-being among youth (Shaw et al.,
2015; Woods & Scott, 2016). This study suggests that social
media also helps stigmatized youth maintain critical access
to emotional support, develop their identities, find important
information, and be entertained, which aligns with emerging
exploratory research on the benefits of social media and
forms of coping for LGBTQ+ youth (Alhabash & Ma, 2017;
Craig et al., 2015; Ellison et al., 2007; Hanckel et al., 2019;
McInroy et al., 2019b). Individual items (such as feeling
connected and helping others) align with qualitative research
on how LGBTQ+ youth use social media (Hanckel et al.,
2019). Furthermore, this study parsed out some of the bene-
fits by age, as younger participants were more likely to use
social media to enhance their well-being across all four fac-
tors than their older counterparts. This supports previous
studies of youth social media use (Hausmann et al., 2017;
McInroy et al., 2019a), which show that younger adolescents
were more likely to report more significant impacts from
social media than older youth.
Second, this study provides a deeper understanding of
the utility of particular types of platforms for LGBTQ+
youth, which, despite the rapid changes in technologies, can
provide a framework for a broader conceptualization of the
Social Networking and Messaging Platforms
Social networking and messaging platforms used by partici-
pants at the time of study (2016) included Facebook, Twitter,
Kik, and Snapchat. At that time, they served as intimate por-
tals for users to construct and curate a life record in collabo-
ration with and for the audience of an interconnected
network of users who shared some form of emotional rela-
tionship (Robards & Lincoln, 2016). Since this study was
conducted, privacy concerns and a more business-oriented
approach from the developers have changed the nature of
some of these platforms, to be less of a space for personal
connection, and increasingly more public (Buehler, 2017;
Hollenbaugh, 2019). For example, Twitter is becoming
almost entirely a platform for paid promotions, public opin-
ion, and polarizing debate with little social networking or
connection (Pain & Chen, 2019).
Content Production and Sharing Platforms
Platforms where individual users are all encouraged to create
content that could be shared publicly—or at least more
broadly than with an interconnected group (as in the previous
category)—included Instagram, Tumblr, and Reddit for par-
ticipants at the time of the study. These platforms were fre-
quently used to curate an image and representation of self
that may be otherwise absent or lacking in media, with some
greater privacy settings (such as not being able to save pho-
tos locally) and more limited user interaction than the plat-
forms in the previous category (Baulch & Pramiyanti, 2018;
Locatelli, 2017). With recent events such as Instagram’s
acquisition by Facebook, Tumblr’s fall from prominence,
and the overall trend toward commercialization of main-
stream social media (O’Meara, 2019), the extent to which all
users produce and share content has fluctuated and individ-
ual platforms may have shifted into or out of this category.
Content Consumption Platforms
Content consumption platforms differ from content pro-
duction and sharing platforms in their primary purpose of
utilization. While all users can potentially produce and
share content, there is a relatively small proportion who
generally choose to do so, with most users accessing the
platform to consume content. YouTube, Wikipedia, Spotify,
and Pinterest were examples of these platforms at the time
of study. Users frequently access these platforms to see
themselves reflected in content created by others, and this
content can be an important component of identity devel-
opment, socialization, and social recognition processes
(Balleys et al., 2020; Lewallen & Behm-Morawitz, 2016).
Again, the commercialization of mainstream social media
has altered user patterns and behaviors, although possibly
not to the same extent as in the first two categories
(Schwemmer & Ziewiecki, 2018).
Strategies for Enhancing LGBTQ+ Youth Well-
Being on Social Media
Third, the results from this investigation provide a scale with
utility for promoting deeper understanding of the positive
role that social media play in the daily lives of LGBTQ+
youth and enable professional practitioners and scholars to
develop more nuanced strategies to enhance well-being
efforts with this marginalized population. The scale provides
a reliable multi-item, multidimensional way to measure
impacts of social media use among LGBTQ+ youth which
suggests positive impacts if SMBS scores are high and
potentially negative or null impacts if SMBS scores are low.
Moreover, the results from this investigation highlight key
dimensions of well-being for LGBTQ+ youth that can be tar-
geted in research and practice.
Craig et al. 9
For example, organizations and programs that serve
LGBTQ+ youth can utilize the SMBS to consider their par-
ticular approach to developing and implementing a social
media strategy with the specific population of young people
that they serve. When trying to further facilitate the emo-
tional support aspect of social media articulated for LGBTQ+
youth, the media content that providers and organizations
disseminate should be interactive, encourage direct engage-
ment, and allow youth to curate their social media intake to
minimize negative messages and increase messages that
affirm LGBTQ+ identities (McInroy et al., 2019b). Likewise,
when focused on the educational aspect of well-being, social
media should be leveraged to provide important identity-
specific information in a way that enhances the coping skills
of LGBTQ+ youth (Goldbach & Gibbs, 2015).
Clinical Utility of the Social Media Well-Being
Fourth, the SMBS also has potential as a clinical tool that can
be used to individually assess the impact of social media on
the well-being of a particular LGBTQ+ youth, as well as
their motivations for use. This can be a starting point from
which practitioners can tailor individual interventions to
reinforce the positive aspects of a client’s social media
engagement to promote their well-being. Such approaches
can include partnering with youth to better understand the
individual impact of social media and educate them on the
risks and benefits of social media use as they navigate their
daily lives (McInroy & Craig, 2015). The lens of positive
impact on well-being serves as a more comprehensive under-
standing of social media and represents a shift in addressing
its use among a marginalized youth population.
The Interactive Nature of Social Media Use for
Finally, this study illustrates the interactive nature of social
media engagement for LGBTQ+ youth. Emerging research
on social media tends to divide social media use into active
or passive categories which seem to have differential impact
on subjective well-being (Frison & Eggermont, 2015).
Active social media use typically allow users to engage
directly with others (e.g., messaging, commenting) in more
of a producer role that has been linked to positive well-being
(Verduyn et al., 2015). These associations are enabled by
perceived social support (Frison & Eggermont, 2015).
Passive social media use that does not directly engage par-
ticipants with one another (e.g., viewing profiles, watching
videos) has been found in previous research to negatively
impact well-being (Verduyn et al., 2015), although it could
also be a form of escapist coping (McInroy et al., 2019b).
This negativity is typically attributed to the process of social
comparison to other people’s social media profiles (Tandoc
et al., 2015). Although this study did not set out to capture
the differences between active and passive use, several of the
key variable constructs do seem to align with these catego-
ries (with entertainment as the most prominent passive cate-
gory and emotional support and development as the most
active). That said, the increasingly interactive nature of many
social media sites (e.g., Instagram Live, YouTube Live,
Twitch) allow for the co-occurrence of passive and active
usage in a single interaction, which does make it more diffi-
cult to parse. Thus, the holistic approach to understanding
the impact of social media use on the well-being of LGBTQ+
youth utilized by this study may be beneficial.
Opportunities for Future Research
As the platforms used in this study were diverse and with a
large sample, the SMBS may be relevant regardless of the
specific social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter)
under study. Given the fluctuating nature of online plat-
forms and pending validation studies, this scale is likely to
have utility beyond the platforms used in its development.
There may also be potential for transferability of the instru-
ment to other marginalized youth populations who seek
safety and support online and to older LGBTQ+ popula-
tions who may use social media for similar purposes. Many
people develop their LGBTQ+ identity later in life, and
social media could be a catalyst for this process of identity
discovery. Thus, this scale could be adapted and applied in
a range of populations and contexts. While the online sur-
vey included dating and hook-up apps and mental health
apps as options for the five favorite sites, participants chose
social networking/messaging, content production/sharing,
and content consumption platforms instead of dating and
hook-up or mental health platforms.
As such, this study cannot build upon extant work on sex-
ting and online sexualization among LGBTQ+ youth (Albury
& Byron, 2014) nor upon experiences of LGBTQ+ youth
with mental health apps (Byron, 2019). A study that specifi-
cally focuses on dating and hook-up platforms using the
SMBS may corroborate emerging research showing that
these apps may not exacerbate sexual health risk and instead
offer pathways to intimacy and connection (Albury, 2018).
Surveying LGBTQ+ youth with the SMBS about their use of
mental health apps may also be of benefit. While this study is
not representative of LGBTQ+ youth in the United States
and Canada, there was more youth identifying as female,
gender non-confirming, pansexual, and bisexual than there
were youth identifying as gay and male which is reflective of
the current identity categories endorsed by LGBTQ+ youth
populations in other online studies (McInroy et al., 2019a;
Waite & Denier, 2019). The study sample is also dispropor-
tionately white, although this is typical of online studies with
LGBTQ+ youth (Waite & Denier, 2019) and may be attribut-
able to the snowball nature of online recruitment. As such,
further studies of the SMBS with gender, sexual, and ethnic
10 Social Media + Society
sub-populations of LGBTQ youth would be necessarily to
validate its utility across groups of queer youth.
This study has several limitations. As we could not identify
an existing scale that measures positive reasons for social
media use among LGBTQ+ youth, further validation studies
are necessary to determine the extent to which this scale
encompasses and measures the construct. This study does
not focus specifically on important negative aspects related
to social media use such as social overload (Chai et al., 2019)
as the study’s purpose was to develop a scale that may accu-
rately assess social media benefits that may enhance well-
being. This approach may have overly prescribed the notion
that social media produces positive effects on well-being,
without sufficient attention to the negative impacts, which
limits interpretation. As scores were high across platform
categories, suggesting that participants glean benefits from
social media, we are unable to infer conclusions regarding
non-well-being from this data. Furthermore, this study is
limited by its focus on LGBTQ+ youth in the United States
and Canada; social media use may have differential impacts
based on location and population.
This study presents a scale that aligns with emerging explor-
atory research on the benefits of social media for youth well-
being. With a large and diverse sample, the four key factors
of social media for LGBTQ+ youth (emotional support and
development, LGBTQ+ information, general education,
entertainment) provide a more nuanced understanding of the
role of emerging technology in the well-being of this popula-
tion. The promising EFA results could be attributed to the
combination of inductive (i.e., literature review) and deduc-
tive (i.e., interviews, advisory board) strategies used in scale
development. Adaptation of the SMBS through a similar
identity-specific combination strategy could enhance the
scale’s utility to explore the benefits of social media in other
We thank the youth participants for their contributions.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support
for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This
work was supported by Insight and Partnership Grants from the
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
(SSHRC #495-2015-0780 and #895-2018-1000). Shelley L. Craig
is the Canada Research Chair in Sexual and Gender Minority
Youth. A.D.E. holds a salary award from the Ontario HIV Treatment
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Shelley L. Craig (PhD, Florida International University) is a profes-
sor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University
of Toronto and is the Canada Research Chair in Sexual and Gender
Minority Youth (SGMY). She directs the International Partnership
for Queer Youth Resilience (INQYR), which works to address the
needs and enhance the resilience of SGMY in diverse global con-
texts. Her research is supported by the Social Science and
Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Public
Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and the Canadian Institutes of
Health Research (CIHR).
Andrew D. Eaton is a PhD candidate of Social Work at the
Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of
Toronto. His research focuses on addressing complexities of liv-
ing and aging with HIV/AIDS and is funded by the CIHR
Craig et al. 13
Canadian HIV Trials Network (CTN) and the Ontario HIV
Treatment Network (OHTN).
Lauren B. McInroy (PhD, University of Toronto) is an assistant pro-
fessor in the College of Social Work at The Ohio State University.
Her research investigates the impacts of information and communi-
cation technologies (ICTs) on the well-being of marginalized ado-
lescents and emerging adults—particularly LGBTQ+ young peo-
ple, who experience heightened risks including mental health
difficulties, social exclusion, and violence.
Vivian W. Y. Leung (MA, The Chinese University of Hong Kong) is
a PhD Candidate at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at
the University of Toronto. Her research examines parental cultural
socialization by Chinese parents in Canada and the United States and
the influence of racism and parents’ social network in the process.
Sreedevi Krishnan (MSW, University of Toronto) is a master of
Social Work graduate from the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social
Work at the University of Toronto. She is currently practicing
social work with children and their families.