Different social media platforms have distinct effects on well-being during pandemic, study finds

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A study published in PLOS A emphasizes the importance of differentiating social media platforms when considering the psychological impact of social media. The results revealed that active use of Facebook during the pandemic was linked to greater negative impact, while active uses of Twitter and Instagram were linked to greater life satisfaction through increased social support.

Following a sudden loss of social contact during the COVID-19 lockdown, people have been encouraged to turn to social media to stay in touch with friends and family. But according to current psychological literature, there is some evidence that using social networking sites can be more harmful than helpful in mental health.

Study authors Alexandra Masciantonio and colleagues say global research on the impact of social media has shown mixed results. The researchers suggest that this is because most studies have failed to differentiate specific social media platforms (eg, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok) or to distinguish between active and passive use of social media. platforms. Masciantonio and his team conducted their own study to explore the impact of using social media during the pandemic while improving these limits.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an explosion in the use of social media in everyday life. So it was essential for us to understand if they had effects on individual well-being and if so, what could moderate those effects, ”explained Masciantonio.

A total of 793 adults aged 18 to 77 responded to online surveys in April 2020, during the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic. The respondents, mostly French or Belgian, were asked how often they used Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok before and after confinement. For each social media platform, they also reported on the extent to which they actively and passively engaged with the platform during quarantine. Active use refers to sharing content or commenting on other people’s posts, while passive use refers to scrolling through content without contributing.

Respondents also responded to questions assessing the extent to which they receive social support through social media and the extent to which they tend to make bottom-up social comparisons on social media (for example, “On social networking sites social, I sometimes think that my relatives (friends, family and colleagues) are better off than me. ‘). Finally, they performed assessments of three measures of well-being: negative affect, positive affect, and life satisfaction.

In general, the results indicated that social media use increased during the pandemic across all platforms, especially TikTok. Additionally, social media platforms have had differential effects on well-being. First, when it comes to TikTok, neither active nor passive use of the platform was associated with any of the wellness metrics. But active Facebook use was associated with greater negative affect (e.g. reduced life satisfaction.

Then, active Instagram use was associated with increased social support and, in turn, higher life satisfaction and higher negative affect. The study’s authors explain why social support might be associated with negative affect, noting: “It’s plausible that interacting with others on social media sites elicits emotional reactivation rather than dump. As a result, obtaining social support during the COVID-19 pandemic, a negative and painful event, can increase negative affect. “

Active use of Twitter was associated with greater social support and, in turn, greater life satisfaction. Passive use of Twitter also appears to have beneficial effects, demonstrating an association with decreased use of upward social comparisons, and in turn, lower negative affect, higher positive affect, and greater satisfaction in life. life. The researchers suggest that this negative link between passive use of Twitter and bottom-up social comparisons could be explained by the social context of the platform. Recent studies have suggested that negative messages and emotions are more common on Twitter than on platforms like Facebook where positive self-presentation and impression management are more common.

“It is plausible that Twitter users scrolling through their Twitter feed and constantly seeing bad news from their followers are more likely to compare their situation with what they consider to be worse (i.e. downward social comparison), rather than better (ie upward social comparison), ”write Masciantonio and his colleagues.

The study authors note that their findings are preliminary, preventing them from offering clear recommendations for the use of social media during the pandemic. Instead, they stress the importance of considering the differential effects of specific platforms rather than promoting “global use” of social networking sites.

“The important thing to take away from this study is that the association between social media and well-being during the first lockdown depended both on the type of social media and how they were used,” Masciantonio told PsyPost.

However, “like all scientific studies, there are limits,” she added. “The most essential thing is that this study is based on a cross-sectional estimate, so it is impossible to establish a causal link between the use of social networks and well-being. Many questions about social networks and their impact on human beings remain to be explored. For example, there is still a certain lack of information on the effect of the medium on which social networks are used (smartphones, connected watches, computers, etc.) on daily stress, well-being, etc.

The study “Don’t Put All Social Media Sites in One Basket: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Their Relationship to Wellness During the COVID-19 Pandemic”, was written by Alexandra Masciantonio, David Bourguignon, Pierre Bouchat, Manon Balty and Bernard Rimé.


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