Facebook’s growth not linked to psychological harm, study finds
An Oxford Internet Institute (OII) study found no evidence that Facebook’s global spread is linked to widespread psychological harm.
As social media use grew in 72 countries, researchers examined how wellbeing changed.
Researchers argue that social media is not psychologically harmful, as widely believed.
Legislation is being considered in several countries, including the UK, to protect social media users.
According to whistle-blowers and press reports based on leaks, Meta, which owns Facebook, has its own research that suggests negative impacts on some users.
There was no research on Meta’s other platforms, including Instagram, in this study.
Prof. Andrew Przybylski of the OII told researchers that the study attempted to address the question: “As countries become more saturated with social media, how do their populations fare?”
In his words, “It is commonly believed that this is a bad thing for wellbeing. But our analysis of the data didn’t support that conclusion.”
Prof Przybylski’s previous research on the OII also found little correlation between teenage technology use and mental health problems.
Facebook use was only examined at a national level in the report. It is not possible to determine the impact of Facebook use on vulnerable groups based on broad-brush findings.
Prof Przybylski acknowledged that it may miss negative impacts on small groups of users if they are offset by positive impacts on other groups.
Furthermore, it failed to examine the risks associated with certain types of content, such as self-harm-promoting material.
Based on the study, Prof Przybylski concluded that researchers needed better access to data about social media’s effect from tech companies:
Some people are crying wolf about social media, but we don’t actually have the data, nor do we have the materials to build a wolf detector,” he explained.
In the last stages of its parliamentary journey, the Online Safety Bill (OSB) is on its way to becoming law in the UK. The purpose of it is to protect people from harm caused by online activity.
The London School of Economics’ Prof Sonia Livingstone cautioned, however, that the study was of limited relevance to the OSB.
There is some validity to the authors’ criticism that screen-time anxiety isn’t well supported by robust evidence. However, the study reported here is so general that it is of very little use to current regulatory or clinical discussions.”
While the OSB prioritizes protecting children, the research does not look at kids as a separate group, and “by and large, children don’t use Facebook.”.
“I was at a conference once that asked, ‘what difference does half a century of television make?’. How can there be only one answer?” she questioned.
The author’s call for more data-driven research was supported by her.
Professor Przybylski and co-author Matti Vuorre used a large amount of Facebook data in their peer-reviewed research. It is worth noting that neither researcher is affiliated with the company, nor was this research funded by it.