Social media intensity, social connection, and wellbeing: The link
From several studies now, we have been able to establish that social connection is essential to our mental well-being. Research also shows that heavy social media use can be harmful, leading to a weaker sense of connection and, subsequently, lower well-being. But there's something else we need to address: active vs. passive heavy social media use.
Active social media use is when the user posts, comments, and interacts on the platform. Passive social media use is when the user only scrolls through and views other people's posts without engaging.
In three studies with 146 participants, the researchers found that passive social media use was associated with lower social connection and well-being. Another study revealed that heavy and consistently passive social media use was linked with lower social connection and higher stress. However, in the final study, the researchers found that while heavy passive social media use weakened social connection, heavy active social media use was associated with a higher sense of social connection and well-being.
This reinforces the idea that social media is not inherently harmful.
Also, it shows how mentally damaging self-isolation could be. Think about it: there's Jessica who actively engages with the world online, posts her content, gets likes and comments, and also interacts with other users, thereby boosting her sense of belonging—feeling connected.
And there's Jill who never posts or comments, perhaps afraid she's alone and that no one would relate to her views. She feels unheard, invisible, isolated. This crashes her feelings of connection further.
But there's a question this whole study begs: Could it be that people who feel more connected and happier in life are generally more inclined to post and interact on social media? Could it be that those who only scroll through without engaging are simply acting out their feelings of isolation?
It all sounds like a vicious cycle, where the connected gets to feel more connected, and the lonely feels even lonelier. Whatever the case, one thing’s for sure: we all want to feel connected—we crave it, because we NEED it. And the more we find ways to interact with other people, the better for us all.
And using social media for what it was designed (to connect with other people) could help.