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Problematic Social Media Use in Sexual and Gender Minority Young Adults: Observational Study.

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Sexual and gender minority (SGM) individuals experience minority stress, especially when they lack social support. SGM young adults may turn to social media in search of a supportive community; however, social media use can become problematic when it interferes with functioning. Problematic social media use may be associated with experiences of minority stress among SGM young adults.


The objective of this study is to examine the associations among social media use, SGM-related internalized stigma, emotional social support, and depressive symptoms in SGM young adults.


Participants were SGM young adults who were regular (≥4 days per week) social media users (N=302) and had enrolled in Facebook smoking cessation interventions. As part of a baseline assessment, participants self-reported problematic social media use (characterized by salience, tolerance, and withdrawal-like experiences; adapted from the Facebook Addiction Scale), hours of social media use per week, internalized SGM stigma, perceived emotional social support, and depressive symptoms. Pearson correlations tested bivariate associations among problematic social media use, hours of social media use, internalized SGM stigma, perceived emotional social support, and depressive symptoms. Multiple linear regression examined the associations between the aforementioned variables and problematic social media use and was adjusted for gender identity.


A total of 302 SGM young adults were included in the analyses (assigned female at birth: 218/302, 72.2%; non-Hispanic White: 188/302, 62.3%; age: mean 21.9 years, SD 2.2 years). The sexual identity composition of the sample was 59.3% (179/302) bisexual and/or pansexual, 17.2% (52/302) gay, 16.9% (51/302) lesbian, and 6.6% (20/302) other. The gender identity composition of the sample was 61.3% (185/302) cisgender; 24.2% (73/302) genderqueer, fluid, nonbinary, or other; and 14.6% (44/302) transgender. Problematic social media use averaged 2.53 (SD 0.94) on a 5-point scale, with a median of 17 hours of social media use per week (approximately 2.5 h per day). Participants with greater problematic social media use had greater internalized SGM stigma (r=0.22; P<.001) and depressive symptoms (r=0.22; P<.001) and lower perceived emotional social support (r=-0.15; P=.007). Greater internalized SGM stigma remained was significantly associated with greater problematic social media use after accounting for the time spent on social media and other correlates (P<.001). In addition, participants with greater depressive symptoms had marginally greater problematic social media use (P=.05). In sum, signs of problematic social media use were more likely to occur among SGM young adults who had internalized SGM stigma and depressive symptoms.


Taken together, problematic social media use among SGM young adults was associated with negative psychological experiences, including internalized stigma, low social support, and depressive symptoms. SGM young adults experiencing minority stress may be at risk for problematic social media use.

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