Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Monograph

Degree

Master of Science

Program

Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Supervisor

Burke, Shauna M.

Abstract

The overall purpose of this cross-sectional, survey-based study was to examine university students’ social media use, perceptions of in-person and online social connectedness, and feelings about physical distancing during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, Canada. University students’ (N = 1,588; Mage = 22.4, SD = 5.1; 80.6% female) survey responses revealed high levels of in-person (Mitem = 4.4, SD = 0.8) and online (Mitem = 3.8, SD = 0.7) connectedness. Students who reported greater perceptions of connectedness were those whose social media use: (a) had “increased greatly” since the start of the pandemic; and (b) was active (versus passive). Connectedness was significantly higher among users of Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok (versus non-users). Students reporting greater support and attitudes about physical distancing also reported significantly higher connectedness scores. Results are discussed in the context of existing literature and as a basis for potential implications and future directions.

Summary for Lay Audience

As COVID-19 marks the first pandemic of the digital era, social media presents an opportunity for maintaining social connections when physical interactions are not possible. This cross-sectional, survey-based study was conducted to examine university students’ social media use, perceptions of in-person and online social connectedness, and feelings about physical distancing during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, Canada. University students (N= 1,588 [92.2% from the host university]; Mage = 22.4, SD = 5.1; 80.6% female) completed an online survey in March/April, 2020. Results showed that most students reported spending 1-4 hours per day on social media, and that 85.6% had increased their use since the start of the pandemic. Most students reported having 4+ social media accounts, with Facebook and Instagram being the most common. Students were more likely to report their social media engagement as passive (i.e., scrolling), rather than active (e.g., sharing photos). Overall, students reported high levels of both in-person and online social connectedness, as well as high levels of support from others and positive attitudes related to physical distancing; students’ adjustment to physical distancing was moderate. Females and younger students (aged 17-19) reported spending significantly more time on social media than males and older students. With regard to physical distancing, younger students reported significantly lower levels of adjustment, and males reported significantly lower attitudes. Perceptions of in-person and online connectedness were significantly higher among students who reported: (a) that their social media use had “increased greatly”; (b) active engagement; and (c) using Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Students who had greater perceptions of support from others and more positive attitudes towards physical distancing also exhibited significantly higher levels of connectedness. Significantly greater perceptions of online connectedness (but not in-person connectedness) were observed for students who: (a) were high (> 5 hours/day) social media users; (b) used Twitter and “other” platforms; and (c) reporting having more social media accounts. These findings provide useful information about how university students adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic in its early stages. Researchers can utilize these results to support public health in the case of future waves and crises.

Available for download on Tuesday, March 01, 2022

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