Digital Inequality in the Social Media Use–Well-Being Relationship

This is a summary post of a short article in which we argue for the need to consider digital inequality in research on social media use and well-being. The open access article is published in Social Media + Society.

Our literature review didn’t turn up any papers that could empirically show the “full cycle” of how social status affects social media use, which leads to certain immediate outcomes, which over time leads to longer-term well-being impacts, which ultimately will feed back into socioeconomic status. That’s too much to ask of a single study, but it would be a highly relevant research program.

A conceptual framework for considering digital inequality when studying social media use and well-being.

In economics happiness research, there is rarely any acknowledgment of the role of digital media; in media psychology, it’s usually about the mechanism at the individual level; and digital inequality studies from sociology and communication tend to overlook relevant affective outcomes of social media use. Therefore, we try to combine all of these relevant but individually insufficient perspectives and build on digital inequality and digital well-being frameworks. Based on Corey Keyes’ and others’ work, we devise a subjective well-being taxonomy to enable explicit theorization in terms of outcome, and subsequently measurement (research on social media use and well-being has used many different operationalizations and definitions which make it difficult to get valid meta-analytical insights). Finally, towards the necessary integrated research program, we highlight the relevant social background and socio-digital context variables and their potential influences on the core relationship of social media use and well-being in a new framework (see figure).

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