Social media is a product that is co-created by consumers and multinational enterprises, that partially manage the customer experience and that has garnered significant attention in the field of international marketing. However, international marketing scholars have yet to address the societal costs of the use of social media, even as academics in other disciplines and business leaders are raising alarm that social media has created a digital ecosystem that may harm individuals within the global market. The objective of this research is to examine the generalizability of the relationship between the use of social media and the prevalence of depression across countries.
Employing social cohesion theory and the social network approach of the strength of ties, this work examines the relationship between the use of social media and time spent on social media at the country level and the prevalence of depression. The authors examine this issue within a 28-country, eight-year, unbalanced panel dataset, accounting for cultural, economic and structural factors.
The authors find that as more people within a country use social media, the prevalence of depression in that country increases. However, the authors also find that as the average time spent on social media in a country increases the deleterious relationship between the use of social media and the prevalence of depression diminishes.
Answering the calls in the international marketing literature for a greater understanding of the externalities (i.e. consumer well-being effects) of marketing activities of multinational companies, this study demonstrates the varying relationships of the use of and time spent on social media and the prevalence of depression at the population level, across a wide variety of countries, thus also contributing to the effort to improving generalizations from multi-country comparisons in international research.