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How many homeless youth use social networks?

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According to a new survey, the majority of young people -- without a roof over their heads -- remain connected through social networking.

According to a new survey, the majority of young people -- without a roof over their heads -- remain connected through social networking.

The Atlantic reported the results of a new study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, which found that 75 percent of homeless participants in the study used social networks -- and the usage was comparable to college students.

The small research project, led by the University of Alabama's Rosanna Guadagno, interviewed 237 college kids and 65 homeless people. All subjects were roughly 19 years old. The team found that usage patterns for social networking in both groups were very similar.

90 percent of those attending college were on social networks, including Twitter and Facebook. Fewer homeless youth were found on social networking sites, but those that were reported the same time spent online -- at over an hour a day.

Guadagno argues that a 'digital divide' may be worth rethinking -- as living arrangements and stability did not appear to change how young people find channels to communicate. The study says:

"To the extent that our findings show a 'digital divide' between undergraduates at a four-year university and age-matched participants in a program for homeless young adults, it is mainly in types of Internet use and not access to the Internet, and that divide is relatively minor.

Since it is clear that the proportions of undergraduates and homeless young adults accessing social networking sites are similar, we assert that the term digital divide is not descriptive of the young adult population."

Another recent study from the University of Dayton explored how social media is used by the homeless -- perhaps not only for social contact and equality, but as a means to solve practical issues.

Leader of the study Art Jipson found that the homeless use social media as a place where all people are treated 'equally', and through a series of interviews, discovered that it can also be a medium to find social services, somewhere to sleep and the next hot meal. One subject said:

"Why can't I be on Facebook?. I have as much right to that as anyone else. Just because I am homeless does not mean that I don't care about this stuff, you know? My family is on Facebook. My friends are on Facebook. People who care about me are on Facebook."

The findings will be presented at the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

This post originally appeared on ZDNet.

Image credit: Franco Folini

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure