Social media is often accused of making people feel bad. A new Oxford study shows this is not true. “Despite popular claims about the impact of social media on well-being, the Oxford Internet Institute research found ‘no evidence’ Facebook’s spread was consistently linked negatively to well-being – quite the opposite” , the institute says.
“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 well-being, says professor Andrew Przybylski who headed the study together with Professor Matti Vuorre, .
“This is not to say this is evidence that Facebook is good for the well-being of users. Rather, the best global data does not support the idea that the expansion of social media has a negative global association with well-being across nations and different demographics”, says Przybylski.
The study says the association between Facebook adoption and well-being was slightly more positive for males than females.
The institute says it is the largest independent scientific study ever conducted, investigating the spread of Facebook across the globe. It found no evidence that the social media platform’s worldwide penetration is linked to widespread psychological harm.
The study used well-being data from nearly a million people across 72 countries over 12 years and harnessed actual individual usage data from millions of Facebook users worldwide to investigate the impact of Facebook on well-being.
“Much of the past research into social media use and well-being has been hampered by an exclusive focus on well-being data in the Global North and a reliance on inaccurate self-reports of social media engagement”, says Vuorre.
“In our new study, we cover the broadest possible geography for the first time, analysing 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.’
The institute says Facebook was involved in the research, but only to provide data and did not commission or fund the independent study.
The project started before the Covid pandemic, and the team worked for more than two years. The researchers combined existing well-being data from Gallup, covering nearly one million people from 2008 to 2019, with Facebook data relating to global platform membership.
“Facebook currently reports nearly three billion users worldwide, but this research looks at the earlier days of the platform’s international penetration from 2008 to 2019. This period was critical because popular commentators have claimed, without evidence, that trends in social media use and well-being during this period are linked” , the institute says.
“To better understand the plausible range of associations, we linked data tracking Facebook’s global adoption with three indicators of well-being: life satisfaction, negative and positive psychological experiences”, the project leaders say in a statement.
“We examined 72 countries’ per capita active Facebook users in males and females in two age brackets (13-34 years and 35+years).”
They says they found no evidence for negative associations and in many cases, there were positive correlations between Facebook and well-being indicators.
The researchers also investigated differences relating to age and gender. Their analysis showed that the association between Facebook adoption and well-being was slightly more positive for males than females, across all well-being measures but these trends were not significant.
“Furthermore, Facebook adoption and well-being was generally more positive for younger individuals across countries. These effects were small but significant.”
The institute says that this latest study aligns with previous research from the Oxford experts exploring the link between digital technology and mental health, which found technology use has not become increasingly associated with negative psychological outcomes over time.
“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”, Vuorre says.