Adolescent use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat has increased dramatically over the last decade and now pervades their everyday social lives. Active and passive social media use may impact emotional health differently, but little is known about whether and to what extent either type of social media use influences emotional distress among young people. We analyzed population survey data collected from Icelandic adolescents (N = 10,563) to document the prevalence of social media use and investigate the relationship of both active and passive social media use with self-reported symptoms of anxiety and depressed mood. A hierarchical linear regression model revealed that passive social media use was related to greater symptoms of anxiety and depressed mood among adolescents and active social media use was related to decreased symptoms of anxiety and depressed mood, even after controlling for time spent on social media. When adding known risk and protective factors, self-esteem, offline peer support, poor body image, and social comparison to the model, active use was not related to emotional distress; however, passive use was still related to adolescent symptoms of anxiety and depressed mood. The effect of social media on emotional distress differed by gender as time spent on social media had a stronger relationship with emotional distress among girls. In addition, passive use was more strongly related to symptoms of depressed mood among girls. Future research should include risk and protective factors as mediators of different types of social media use and adolescent emotional distress.
Keywords: active social media use; adolescence; anxiety; depressed mood; emotional distress; passive social media use.