In a study conducted across 72 countries, Oxford scientists found no evidence linking Facebook adoption and negative well-being.
It’s the largest scientific study of its kind ever conducted and the results will perhaps be surprising to many.
A team of Oxford University scientists have found no evidence that the worldwide adoption of social media platform Facebook is linked to widespread psychological harm.
Published by the Royal Society, the Oxford study used data from nearly a million people across 72 countries from 2008 to 2019 and harnessed actual individual usage data from millions of Facebook users worldwide to investigate the impact of the platform on users’ well-being.
Despite popular claims about the impact of social media, the Oxford Internet Institute research, led by Professor Andrew Przybylski and Professor Matti Vuorre, found “no evidence” that Facebook’s spread was consistently linked negatively to well-being.
“Although reports of negative psychological outcomes associated with social media are common in academic and popular writing, evidence for harms is, on balance, more speculative than conclusive,” the research paper states.
Is Facebook good for your mental health?
The study goes further, adding that there may actually be some benefits for your mental health that could be drawn from using Zuckenberg’s social media platform.
“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,” said Przybylski.
But these conclusions should be considered with a pinch of salt.
“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,” added Przybylski.
With nearly three billion monthly active users, Facebook is still Meta’s most popular social media. But overtime, concerns have been raised regarding the influence Facebook – and other social media – could have on its users, especially younger ones.
Previous studies have focused on the global North, says Vuorre, co-author of the study.
“In our new study, we cover the broadest possible geography for the first-time, analysing Facebook usage data overlaid with robust well-being data, giving a truly global perspective,” he noted.
While Facebook didn’t commission or fund the study, they were involved in providing the data.
‘No evidence for negative associations’
“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,” explained the researchers.
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.
It has to be noted that the data studied stopped in 2019, before the pandemic.
After several scandals, Meta appears to have shifted to more transparency and collaboration with scientists.
Just a few days ago, for instance, several papers were published in the Science and Nature journals regarding how its algorithms impacted political views in 2020.
“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 concluded.