Introduction. Social Media has changed the way we conceptualise the boundaries of space and time as well as how we interact with, exchange and respond to information. As a result, information behaviours are evolving alongside digital social media technologies. Increasingly, individuals and organisations are turning to social media to find as well as to disseminate information. This includes the homeless and underprivileged members of our societies. This paper reports on a case study of social media use, in the form of microblogging and blogging by an individual spanning a time of both homelessness and after obtaining housing.
Method. The exploratory study used a case study approach along with information behaviour theories such as information grounds, information needs, and sensemaking as lenses to understand how the homeless use social media in their everyday lives.
Analysis. The first phase analysed homelessness-related posts on Twitter over a period of two years, identified by following various hashtags and handles related to the topic. The second phase involved a content analysis of all blog posts by one individual identified through Twitter who also links to their own much longer blog posts during their time of homelessness.
Results. Results show that social media provides an avenue for both social inclusion and social participation for the homeless while also helping them develop and maintain social ties and stave away their sense of alienation from society.
Conclusion. Based on the findings, this paper argues that for those living on the margins of society, social media in the form of blogging and microblogging has potential not just as a source of information seeking and information sharing, but also as a medium that facilitates social participation, and helps create and sustain social ties, and even develop social capital, which in turn can help them overcome homelessness.
Keywords. information grounds, social media, homelessness, social capital, Twitter, blogs, content analysis
Paper is published in Information Research 21(4): #Homeless but at home in cyberspace