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Social Media by Proxy: how older adults work within their ‘social networks’ to engage with social media

Webster, Gemma; Ryan, Frances



Introduction. Social media use is at an all-time high, and the adoption of online tools by older adults is increasing. This paper reports an exploratory qualitative study investigating the ways in which older adults are supported by social media proxies defined as ‘an individual who uses a social media account for or supports the use of a social media account by another person’.

Method. Interviews, a diary study, and a focus group were conducted to explore the motivations for undertaking a proxy role; formal or informal agreements between proxies and account holders; and collaborative proxy practices and behaviours that exist between the individuals providing or receiving proxy support.

Analysis. A reflective thematic analysis (Clarke et al., 2015) of all three data sources was undertaken. The coding structure was developed from the interview, diary and focus group guides as a way of categorising the data into themes.

Results. Results reveal that social media proxy relationships exist, even if proxy roles are not clearly defined, and that older adults engage with their ‘social networks’ to identify proxy support and it is likely that without this support the older adult would be unable to fully access or engage with social media or other online accounts.

Conclusion. The results demonstrated that social media proxies exist, although the role is not clearly defined, and the nature of the proxy relationship changes over time. This research highlights the need for more in-depth investigations related to social media proxies, especially as the use of social media and other online platform is increasing steadily across all age groups.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 6, 2022
Online Publication Date Mar 15, 2023
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date Oct 18, 2022
Publicly Available Date Mar 15, 2023
Journal Information Research
Print ISSN 1368-1613
Publisher University of Borås, Information Research
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 28
Issue 1
Pages 50-77
Keywords older adults; social media; proxy; human information behaviour; online information
Public URL
Publisher URL


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