Research Review - Summer 1

This Research Review reflects on my experience this past summer as a Laidlaw Scholar. Independently exploring the digital LGBTQ+ community has given me some great insights moving forward in my career as a researcher and leader.

My research project investigated how the LGBTQ+ community on Twitter utilised nostalgia and social media to cope during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. By looking through tweets from March - August 2020, media consumption, social wellness, and lockdown fatigue can all be retrospectively analysed. Four sub-questions assisted my research beyond my initial focus: what are the trends in quarantine habits and coping mechanisms among LGBTQ+ Twitter accounts; what are the most popular posts from the March-August time period about quarantine habits; what coping mechanisms do COVID-19 mental health posts promote surrounding queer communities and is there a focus in posts centred around nostalgia-inducing products/media? These questions aided my research process by guiding my investigation into broad subject matters.

Prior to the six week research period, a thorough literature review was conducted focusing on three main topics: online mental health, particularly in the LGBTQ+ community; COVID anxiety and emotional stressors; and nostalgia’s influence on media consumption in isolation. This in-depth literature review guided the creation of the coding scheme, pilot test, and overall expectations of the study. The first step of the research process once the literature review and research questions were settled was the coding scheme. This consists of the coding schedule and coding manual, which outline the categories of interest to examine within the tweets and their different options. Every option within a category is assigned a number to be coded under and having the manual ensures there are no mistakes by the coder or interpreter. All options within a category must be accurate, exhaustive, and mutually exclusive to all other options. For example, one category in the coding schedule was gender identity and the options listed in the manual were Unknown/Not applicable, Female, Male, and Non-Binary/Other. This demographic info was taken down if provided publicly by the original poster. To ensure the applicability and accuracy of the coding scheme, a small pilot test was conducted and the manual and schedule were adjusted accordingly.

Once the coding scheme was polished, data collection began. For this process, I took a systematic random sample of all tweets posted between March and August of 2020 included at least one of the following keywords: LGBT(Q), gay, mental health, COVID(-19), isolation, and quarantine. All tweets were anonymised when copied down and posted publicly according to Twitter’s terms and conditions. With the coding scheme applied, all data was coded using SPSS Statistics ver 26, as this software can aid in statistical analysis and the creation of tables, charts, and graphs based on the input data. Upon the completion of data collection began the lengthy process of data analysis, a two-pronged approach with both quantitative and qualitative elements. The quantitative analysis focused on frequencies and descriptive statistics based on the information coded during data collection while the qualitative analysis found themes and trends present in the tweets. Throughout analysis, my main research question and sub-questions postmarked the applicable literature from the initial review to further investigate based on the findings from my analysis.

By synthesising my findings and methods, the final outputs of my project are a research article about my research, my Laidlaw research poster, and the reflective essay on my experience with independent research. Overall, I would consider my project a success with few mishaps. There were obstacles to overcome during the process, such as the Twitter Research Archive denying me academic access to the full archive based on my undergraduate status, but I was able to persevere and rework my process around basic Twitter access. I really connected well with social research surrounding topics I am interested in and this experience has been highly beneficial to my understanding of research and leadership. My position as a queer transgender man has provided unique insight and care towards the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community.

‘The worst part [about] the pandemic is realizing just how many people only hold a full conversation with me when they think it’s a possibility that I’ll sleep with them in the very near future... being gay is bad for my mental health’ (User 250)

This quote embodies only some of the struggles with mental health, body image, and loneliness queer people experienced through isolation as found in the sample. I hope with my research I can provide a platform for further investigation on the effects of isolation on queer people, and the implications of social media moving forward.