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


  • Gemma Webster
  • Frances VC Ryan


older adults, social media, proxies, online information, human information behaviour


Introduction. 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 that exist between the individuals providing or receiving proxy support.

Analysis. A reflective thematic analysis 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. 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. 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.




How to Cite

Webster, G., & Ryan, F. (2023). Social Media by Proxy: how older adults work within their ‘social networks’ to engage with social media. Information Research an International Electronic Journal, 28(1), 50–77. Retrieved from



Peer-reviewed papers