Does Passive Social Media Use Harm Well-Being? An Adversarial Review
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Research into the effects of social media on well-being often distinguishes “active” and “passive” use, with passive use supposedly more harmful to well-being (i.e., the passive use hypothesis). Recently, several studies and reviews have begun to question this hypothesis and its conceptual basis, the active/passive dichotomy. As this dichotomy has become a staple of social media research but evidence challenging its validity is mounting, a comprehensive debate on its pros, cons, and potential future is needed. This adversarial review brings together two voices – one more supportive, and the other more critical – toward the active/passive model. In constructive dialogue, we summarize and contrast our two opposing positions: The first position argues that the active/passive dichotomy is a useful framework because it adequately describes how and why passive use is (more) harmful for well-being. The second position challenges the validity of the dichotomy and the passive use hypothesis specifically. Arguments are presented alongside (a) the empirical basis, (b) conceptualization, and (c) operationalization of active and passive use, with particular focus on the passive use hypothesis. Rather than offering a conciliatory summary of the status quo, the goal of this review is to carve out key points of friction in the literature on the effects of social media through fruitful debate. We summarize our main agreements and unresolved disagreements on the merits and shortcomings of the active/passive dichotomy. In doing so, this review paves the way for researchers to decide whether and how they want to continue applying this lens in their future work.