Primary Sources: Study Shows Most Homeless Youth Use Facebook Too, but Differently

Photograph of a young man sitting outdoors and reading a tablet computer.

“The Homeless Use Facebook?! Similarities of Social Network Use Between College Students and Homeless Young Adults” (abstract). Computers in Human Behavior, Vol. 29, No. 1 (January 2013).

What it’s about: Researchers from the National Science Foundation and the University of Alabama set out to learn if a “digital divide” still existed between homeless youth and young people who are not homeless. The notion of a digital divide originated from the first studies of Internet usage, when young, white and relatively affluent Americans were more likely to use the Internet than other groups. The researchers surveyed 303 homeless youth in New York and Los Angeles and 267 students from a public undergraduate university.

Why read it: Both technology and online habits have evolved a lot over the past decade or so. This study updates the picture we have of how young people, including homeless youth, use the Internet. 

​Biggest takeaways for youth workers: Unlike earlier studies, this study found that vast majorities of both homeless youth and college students use social media: 75 percent and 96.7 percent, respectively. The researchers say that whatever divide still exists, “it is mainly in types of Internet use and not access to the Internet, and that divide is relatively minor.”

The researchers found that more than the undergraduates, homeless young people use social networking, including private messaging and blogging, to keep in touch with friends, family and employers. But among the homeless population, young women were less likely than young men to say they used social networking sites to stay in touch with friends. They were also less likely to post public messages.The researchers conclude that homeless young women may be less likely than their male peers  to seek out support through the Internet.

The lack of a digital divide, in other words, does not solve the larger problem of young homeless people feeling detached from a network of support. That's a problem that youth workers can play a role in addressing, both on- and offline.

Additional references:  We've written several articles about the use of social networking in family and youth services. See "Q&A: How to Help Youth Make Positive Use of Social Media" and "Research Roundup: Online Social Networks May Protect Homeless Youth From Negative Influences."

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB, or the Administration for Children & Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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