Digital Practices by Citizens during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from an International, Multi-site Study

Marston, Hannah; Ko, Pei-Chun; Girishan Prabhu, Vishnunarayan; Freeman, Shannon; Ross, Christopher; Sharaievska, Iryna; Browning, Matthew H.E.; Earle, Sarah; Ivan, Loredana; Kanozia, Rubal; Öztürk Çalıkoğlu, Halime; Arslan, Hasan; Bilir-Koca, Burcu; Alexandra Silva, Paula; Buttigieg, Sandra C.; Großschädl, Franziska and Schüttengruber, Gerhilde (2023). Digital Practices by Citizens during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from an International, Multi-site Study. JMIR Mental Health, 10, article no. e41304.




The COVID-19 pandemic brought digital practices and engagement to the forefront of society based on behaviour changes instilled by people adhering to different government mandates. Further behavioural changes included transitioning from the office to working from home, using various social media and communication platforms to maintain a level of social connectedness especially given how many people were socially isolated from friends, family members and community groups living in different types of communities such as rural, urban or city spaces. Although there is a growing body of research exploring how technology was utilized by people, little information and insight is known about the digital practices employed across different age cohorts, who are living in different physical spaces and who reside in different countries.
This paper presents the findings from an international multi-site study exploring the impact of social media and the Internet on individuals' health and wellbeing in different countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data was collected via a series of online surveys deployed between 4th April 2020 and 30th September 2021. Respondents' age range varied between 18 and 60+ years across three regions: Europe, Asia, and North America. On exploring the associations between technology use, social connectedness, and sociodemographic factors on loneliness and wellbeing through bivariate and multivariate analyses, we observed significant differences.
Respondents using social media messengers and more social media apps were comparatively lonelier than those not using social media messengers and those who used zero or one social media app. Additionally, respondents who were not a member of an online community support group were lonelier than those who were a member of an online community support group. psychological wellbeing was reported to be significantly lower, and loneliness was significantly higher for people living in small towns and rural areas compared to those living in suburban and urban communities. Younger respondents (18-29 years old), single adults, unemployed, and those with lower levels of educational achievement were more likely to also experience loneliness.
From an international and interdisciplinary perspective, policymakers and stakeholders should extend and explore interventions targeting loneliness experienced by single young adults and examine further how this may vary across geography. Study findings have implications across the fields of gerontechnology, health sciences, social sciences, media communications, computer, and information technology studies.

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