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No Link Found Between Facebook and Negative Wellbeing

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Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that the widespread adoption of Facebook is linked to psychological harm, according to independent research published in Royal Society Open Science.

Dispelling previous claims of psychological harm

Many claims have been made that trends in social media use and wellbeing are linked, however, new research has found “no evidence” that the spread of Facebook is consistently linked negatively to wellbeing.

“We examined the best available data carefully – and found they did not support the idea that Facebook membership is related to harm, quite the opposite. In fact, our analysis indicates Facebook is possibly related to positive wellbeing,” said Andrew Przybylski, professor of human behavior and technology at the University of Oxford and study co-author.

The study combined individual usage data from millions of Facebook users worldwide with wellbeing data from almost a million individuals from 72 countries between 2008 and 2019. This allowed the team to visualize how the spread of Facebook engagement related to the wellbeing data for the first time.

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Study co-author and University of Oxford research associate Dr. Matti Vuorre said: “Much of the past research into social media use and wellbeing has been hampered by an exclusive focus on wellbeing data in the Global North and a reliance on inaccurate self-reports of social media engagement. In our new study, we cover the broadest possible geography for the first time, analyzing Facebook usage data overlaid with robust wellbeing data, giving a truly global perspective of the impact of Facebook use on wellbeing for the first time.”

Positive, rather than negative associations found

In the study, three indicators were used to determine wellbeing: life satisfaction, negative psychological experiences and positive psychological experiences.

The team found no evidence for negative associations and in many cases, there were positive correlations between Facebook and wellbeing indicators. Their analysis also showed more positive associations between Facebook adoption and wellbeing for younger individuals across countries.

“Our findings should help guide the debate surrounding social media towards more empirical research foundations. We need more transparent collaborative research between independent scientists and the technology industry to better determine how, when and why modern online platforms might be affecting their users,” said Vuorre.

Independent expert Peter Etchells, professor of psychology and science communication at Bath Spa University commented on the research: “Wellbeing is a complex phenomenon, and even in the context of social media use, we need to be careful drawing any firm conclusions by looking at how people use a single platform such as Facebook. As the authors note though, if we truly want to understand the effects that social media can have on us, we need to develop robust and transparent methods for collaborating with digital technology companies. This study provides an inkling into the kind of insights we might be able to glean if the technology industry opened its doors to a much broader range of researchers.”

Facebook had involvement in the study, but only to provide data and ensure its accuracy. Facebook did not commission or fund the study and had no input on the study design.

Reference: Vuorre M, Przybylski AK. Estimating the association between Facebook adoption and well-being in 72 countries. Royal Soc Open Sci. 2023;10(8):221451. doi: 10.1098/rsos.221451

This article is a rework of a press release issued by Oxford Internet Institute. Material has been edited for length and content.