A study was published in PLUS ONE It highlights the importance of distinguishing between social media platforms when considering the psychological impact of social media. The results revealed that active use of Facebook during the pandemic was associated with a greater negative impact, while active uses of Twitter and Instagram were associated with increased life satisfaction through increased social support.
In the wake of the 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 the current psychology literature, there is some evidence that social media use may be more harmful than helpful when it comes to mental health.
Study authors Alexandra Maciantonio and colleagues say extensive research on the impact of social media has provided mixed results. The researchers suggest that this is because most studies fail to distinguish between specific social media platforms (such as Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok) or to distinguish between active and passive use of the platforms. Maciantonio and her team conducted their own study to explore the impact of social media use during the pandemic while improving these restrictions.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an explosion in the use of social networks in everyday life. It was therefore necessary for us to understand whether it has effects on an individual’s well-being, and if so, what might mitigate these effects,” Maciantonio explained.
A total of 793 adults between the ages of 18 and 77 completed online surveys in April of 2020, during the early phase of the coronavirus pandemic. Respondents, who are mainly French or Belgian, were asked how often they used Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok before and after confinement. For each social media platform, they also reported how actively and passively they interacted with the platform during the quarantine. Active use refers to sharing content or commenting on others’ posts, while passive use refers to scrolling through content without contributing.
Respondents also answered questions evaluating the extent to which they receive social support through social media and their tendency to make upward social comparisons on social media (eg, on social networking sites, I sometimes think my relatives (friends, family, colleagues) are better than me). ‘). Finally, they completed assessments of three measures of well-being—negative influence, positive influence, and life satisfaction.
Overall, the results indicated that social media use increased during the pandemic across all platforms, especially TikTok. Moreover, social media platforms had divergent effects on well-being. First, when it comes to TikTok, neither active nor passive use of the platform is associated with any of the wellbeing measures. But active Facebook use was associated with greater negative affect (for example, feeling sad, angry, anxious), and negative Facebook use was associated with higher use of upward social comparisons, and thus, lower positive affect, higher negative affect, and lower life satisfaction.
Then, active Instagram use was associated with increased social support, and thus greater life satisfaction and a higher negative impact. The study authors discuss why social support is associated with negative affect, noting that “it is plausible that interacting with others on social networking sites leads to emotional reactivation rather than discharge. As a result, access to social support during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is an event Negative and painful, to increase the negative impact.”
Active use of Twitter was associated with greater social support and therefore greater life satisfaction. Negative Twitter use also appears to have beneficial effects, demonstrating an association with lower use of upward social comparisons, and thus, less negative influence, greater positive influence, and greater life satisfaction. The researchers suggest that this negative association between negative Twitter use and upward social comparisons may be explained by the platform’s social context. Recent studies have indicated that negative messages and emotions are more common on Twitter compared to platforms such as Facebook where positive self-presentation and impression management are more common.
“It is plausible that Twitter users who browse their Twitter news feed and consistently see bad news from their followers are more inclined to compare their situation with what they consider worse (i.e. downward social comparison), rather than better off (i.e. upward social comparison),” writes Maciantonio and his colleagues.
The study authors note that their findings are preliminary, preventing them from making clear recommendations for social media use during the pandemic. Instead, they emphasize the importance of taking into account the differential effects of particular platforms rather than promoting the “general use” of social networking sites.
“The important thing to remember from this study is that the association between social networks and well-being during the first lockdown depends on the type of social network and the way it is used,” Maciantonio told PsyPost.
“However, like all scientific studies, there are limitations,” she added. “Importantly, this study is based on a cross-sectional design, so it is impossible to establish a causal relationship between social network use and well-being. Many questions about social networks and their impact on humans remain to be explored. For example, there is still a lack of information about the mediator effect. Which social networks (smartphones, connected watch, computers, etc.)
The study, “Do not put all social networking sites in one basket: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and their relations to well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic,” was authored by Alexandra Maciantonio, David Bourguignon, Pierre Bouchat, Manon Balti and Bernard Remy.