Harnessing social media to explore youth social withdrawal in three major cities in China: Cross-Sectional Web Survey

Lucia Lin Liu, Tim M.H. Li, Alan R. Teo, Takahiro A. Kato, Paul W.C. Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Background: Socially withdrawn youth belong to an emerging subgroup of youth who are not in employment, education, or training and who have limited social interaction intention and opportunities. The use of the internet and social media is expected to be an alternative and feasible way to reach this group of young people because of their reclusive nature. Objective: The aim of this study was to explore the possibility of using various social media platforms to investigate the existence of the phenomenon of youth social withdrawal in 3 major cities in China. Methods: A cross-sectional open Web survey was conducted from October 2015 to May 2016 to identify and reach socially withdrawn youth in 3 metropolitan cities in China: Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. To advertise the survey, 3 social media platforms were used: Weibo, WeChat, and Wandianba, a social networking gaming website. Results: In total, 137 participants completed the survey, among whom 13 (9.5%) were identified as belonging to the withdrawal group, 7 (5.1%) to the asocial group, and 9 (6.6%) to the hikikomori group (both withdrawn and asocial for more than 3 months). The cost of recruitment via Weibo was US $7.27 per participant. Conclusions: Several social media platforms in China are viable and inexpensive tools to reach socially withdrawn youth, and internet platforms that specialize in a certain culture or type of entertainment appeared to be more effective in reaching socially withdrawn youth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere34
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018


  • Adolescent
  • China
  • Hikikomori
  • Social withdrawal
  • Web survey
  • Youth social issues

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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