Social Media in the LGBTQIA Community Risks and Benefits of Engagement

by , | Apr 4, 2024 | LGBTQIA+ | 0 comments

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Uses of social media in the LGBTQIA Community

Social media is in our everyday lives, almost inescapable. Social media is also a significant aspect of our societal and global culture. We can connect with people across international boundaries, creating friendships, developing communities, and consuming educational or recreational content. So much information and virtual communities are at our fingertips like never before.  

There are so many uses, benefits, and risks with social media, especially for marginalized groups, like the LGBTQIA+ Community. Using social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, or Trevor Space allows for safe, fun, and educational spaces to be created for LGBTQIA+ folks (The Trevor Project, 2023). Social media spaces also foster community, awareness, visibility, and destigmatization (Chan, 2023).  

However, it is important to be aware of social media’s risks. For instance, in another article on Bridgeview’s blog, we discussed social media’s effects on a person’s mental health. Moreover, we also explored social media safety and literacy. The effects of LGBTQIA+ social media spaces and platforms have many of the same risk factors, including depression, anxiety, loneliness, and stigmatization (Chan, 2023).  

Benefits of Social Media Usage

According to Chan (2023) and his study on the benefits of social media within the LGBTQIA+ community, using social media appropriately and routinely reinforces a multitude of advantages including social connectedness, friendships, and mental well-being. Social media platforms like Instagram [TikTok and Trevor Space] can be affirming and representative by offering support, education, care, and love to those in the LGBTQIA+ community (The Trevor Project, 2023). When we are questioning, our identities in our adolescence, early adulthood, or even later adulthood, finding and cultivating support systems is crucial to our health and development. Social media can provide this support system.  

For instance, Dylan Mulvaney, from TikTok comes to mind. She developed her page to share her experience transitioning from male to female (MTF) and living her life as a woman. She is such a bright light in the trans and LGBTQIA+ community, offering affirmation, visibility, and community to trans folk and other queer folk. Dylan also provided education to cis, heterosexual people and allies of the LGBTQIA+ community. There are so many other creators and social media users who develop content similar to Dylan’s, on the same scale, or a smaller, more private scale. While Dylan accomplished a lot with their social media journey, and fostered an amazing community of safe, loving people. Dylan and many other people were harmed emotionally by thousands of hurtful and hateful comments that were left on her videos.  

So, while social media spaces can offer love, safety, affirmation, support, mental well-being, and education, social media can also create damage, trauma, emotional enmeshment – or emotional entanglement, being too emotionally invested and trapped – depression, or anxiety (Chan, 2023).  

Risks of Social Media Usage

I want to explore emotional enmeshment, which was a key point in Chan’s (2023) research. While Chan did not use that specific term, he said “emotional investment”, however, the way he describes emotional investment in his research is similar to enmeshment – feeling entangled in the social media webs, too invested, unable to detach, and addicted. Chan (2023) warns in his research that the risks of being too emotionally enmeshed with social media can lead to internalized stigma. Rather than offering normalization and destigmatization, social media can have the opposite effect, internalizing hate, shame, guilt, and loneliness.  

Enmeshment can also lead to anxiety because of the innate feeling that we have to be connected with our online friends, we have to be posting, or answering every notification right away. If we attach our worth to social media, we can experience emptiness, loneliness, and disengagement in our physical reality (Chan, 2023).  

These risks apply to anyone, however, people a part of these marginalized groups are more at risk as it can be difficult to connect with LGBTQIA+ friends or support systems in our physical world, especially in rural or conservative regions, in which social media may be the only safe haven.  

While risks exist, benefits and safety precautions exist as well. Let’s talk about how to stay safe on social media. 

Social Media Safety

The Trevor Project (2023) offered an abundance of different ways for LGBTQIA+ folk to stay safe on social media. Please take a moment to follow the link down in the references and engage in their page and resources. In this section, I will highlight safety measures that are discussed in Chan’s (2023) research and The Trevor Project’s (2023) article. Both articles discuss limiting social media time, by creating routines or designated social media times, setting boundaries, and turning off notifications when opportunity allows. These strategies can significantly reduce emotional enmeshment, anxiety, and other negative mental health effects. 

Moreover, The Trevor Project (2023), recommends that people should private their accounts, empowering social media users to be able to choose who follows them, limiting negative interactions, and creating safer communities. You can also, block negative commentators, limit notifications, and report suspicious or negative accounts. Most importantly, be mindful of what you post, your feed, your community, and your interactions online.  

References

Chan, R. C. H. (2023). Benefits and risks of LGBT social media use for sexual and gender minority individuals: An investigation of psychosocial mechanisms of LGBT social media use and well-being. Computers in Human Behavior, 139, 107531. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S074756322200351X?via%3Dihub

The Trevor Project. (2023, October 27). Protect your Space and Well-Being on Instagram & social media. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/guide/protect-your-space-and-well-being-on-instagram/ 

TrevorSpace – Community for LGBTQ young people. (n.d.). https://trevorspace.org/


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Authors

  • Alyssa Wilderman, MA, NCC

    MA, NCC

    Alyssa Wilderman alyssa@bridgeviewcounseling.com
  • Briana Jakubik

    Briana Jakubik has her Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Adler University and is currently a Licensed Professional Counselor in Illinois (LPC). She specialized in working with clients that have experienced complex trauma, LGBTQ-related issues, anxiety and mood disorders, and parenting education.
    She strives to find solutions that are “Skills Over Pills”. She is passionate about helping teens and adults that are struggling to better themselves. It can be scary to feel that you are “behind others” in work, school, or relationships but she can help you refocus on the positive aspects of yourself and what you are truly capable of.

    Briana Jakubik Jakubik, MA, LPC briana@bridgeviewcounceling.com