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During COVID-19, many institutions of higher education implemented health protocols that reduced college students’ in-person interactions and prompted an uptick in their social media use. Although social media has often been implicated in the development of psychosocial difficulties, we tested an alternate hypothesis – that, during the pandemic, students’ feelings about social media for interpersonal connection (i.e., FSMIC), would contribute to reductions in loneliness and depressive symptoms. To investigate temporal associations between loneliness, FSMIC, and depression, we estimated random-intercept cross-lagged panel models (RI-CLPM), permitting the disaggregation of between- and within-person effects. Participants (N = 517 undergraduates, Mage = 19.52, SD = 1.26) recruited from two institutions completed measures in Fall 2020 (Time 1), Winter 2021 (Time 2), and Spring 2021 (Time 3). Results, which partially supported the hypothesis that positive FSMIC would diminish psychological difficulties, provided evidence for reciprocal within-person effects between loneliness (but not depression) and FSMIC. Students who reported more positive FSMIC than was usual for them at one time point experienced less loneliness than was usual for them at the subsequent time point; moreover, students who experienced less loneliness than was usual for them reported more positive subsequent FSMIC. Findings further showed that students who scored higher than expected on loneliness at one time point experienced higher than expected levels of depression at the next time point. Evidence indicates that positive feelings about social media may have been adaptive during COVID-19, which has implications for how educational leadership leverages social media to promote college students' psychosocial adjustment.



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