A recent study conducted over a five-year period by Kieren J. Lilly, Chris G. Sibley, and Danny Osborne from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, has revealed some surprising insights into the relationship between social media use and individual-based relative deprivation (IRD).
The findings, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, are significant in understanding the social implications of social media usage.
The study embarked on an exploration of whether social media usage increases perceptions of unjust disadvantage relative to others, a concept known as individual-based relative deprivation. This is particularly relevant given the widespread assumption that social media fosters negative social comparisons, leading to feelings of relative deprivation and discontentment. The research was conducted using data from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS), a longitudinal panel study of New Zealand adults.
The study utilised a random intercept cross-lagged panel model (RI-CLPM) to differentiate between trait-like stability and within-person change in social media use and IRD. This approach allowed for a nuanced analysis, separating stable individual differences from changes within individuals over time. The research involved six annual waves, spanning from 2015 to 2020, with a sample size of 62,017 participants.
Contrary to expectations, the study found that while high social media users tend to experience higher levels of IRD, changes in social media use did not predict changes in IRD over time. This finding was consistent across different age and gender subgroups. Essentially, although there is a between-person association, indicating that individuals who frequently use social media might feel relatively deprived compared to others, this is not a consequence of increased social media use over time.
These findings challenge the prevailing narrative that social media use has detrimental long-term effects on perceptions of financial inequality. The lack of a within-person association suggests that the impact of social media on feelings of deprivation may be overstated in public discourse. The study highlights the importance of distinguishing between individual differences and changes within individuals over time in understanding the effects of social media.
While the study provides valuable insights, it also points towards the need for further research. Investigating the potential short-term effects of social media use on IRD, examining platform-specific effects, and considering factors like active versus passive use could provide a more comprehensive understanding of the relationship between social media and feelings of financial inequality.
The study contributes significantly to the ongoing debate about the impact of social media on society. By demonstrating the absence of a direct causal link between social media use and increased feelings of financial deprivation within individuals over time, it alleviates some of the concerns regarding the long-term social implications of social media use.