New Study Finds No Evidence of Psychological Harm from Facebook Use
A recent independent scientific study conducted by the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute has concluded that there is “no evidence” to support the belief that increased Facebook usage leads to widespread psychological harm. This finding contradicts previous analyses and the prevailing perception about the social media platform.
The study, which analyzed data from nearly one million people across 72 countries over the span of 12 years, found “positive correlations” between adopting Facebook and indicators of well-being. The researchers combined Gallup’s data on well-being with Facebook’s own global membership statistics to assess the relationship between engagement with the platform and three indicators: life satisfaction, negative psychological experiences, and positive psychological experiences.
It is important to note that Facebook provided data for the study, which was checked for accuracy by the researchers themselves. However, the company did not commission, fund, or influence the design of the study, nor did it have prior knowledge of the findings. The study also underwent peer review by the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Andrew Przybylski, a professor of human behavior and technology at Oxford University, stated that the researchers carefully examined the best available data and found no support for the idea that Facebook membership is related to harm. In fact, their analysis suggests that Facebook may be related to positive well-being. However, Przybylski cautioned that this does not mean Facebook is inherently good for users’ well-being.
The research project, which began before the COVID-19 pandemic, spanned over two years in order to secure key data from Facebook. The study focused on the platform’s international penetration between 2008 and 2019 and combined it with well-being responses from 946,798 individuals during the same period as part of Gallup’s World Poll Survey.
These findings stand in contrast to previous studies, including two separate academic analyses conducted last year, which found that Facebook had a negative impact on the mental health of US college students. Additionally, Facebook has faced litigation in the United States, with former engineer Frances Haugen leaking internal documents suggesting that the company prioritized profits over user safety. This has prompted calls for increased regulation in the United States, with nearly 200 school districts joining a lawsuit against big tech companies for allegedly causing mental harm, depression, and anxiety among students.
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has denied these claims, and founder Mark Zuckerberg has alleged that there is a coordinated effort to selectively use the leaked documents to portray a false picture.
The Oxford study’s approach to analyzing social media and its findings should contribute to a more empirical research foundation for the ongoing debate surrounding social media.