A study reveals the absence of psychological harm tied to Facebook’s expansion.
According to an Oxford Internet Institute (OII) study, there is no concrete evidence suggesting a connection between the widespread adoption of Facebook and a decline in psychological well-being. The research focused on the change in well-being across 72 countries as the use of social media platforms increased. This contradicts the prevailing belief that social media platforms, like Facebook, have harmful psychological effects. Despite concerns about online harm, some countries, including the UK, are contemplating regulations to safeguard social media users.
Meta, the company that owns Facebook, has come under scrutiny due to whistleblowers’ testimonies and leaked reports implying that the company’s own research indicated negative impacts on users. However, the study by OII only examined Facebook’s impact and not other platforms under Meta, such as Instagram. The research was led by Prof. Andrew Przybylski, who sought to understand how population well-being changed as countries became more saturated with social media. The results countered the notion that increased social media saturation negatively impacted well-being.
While the study highlighted the lack of evidence for broad negative effects, it didn’t delve into the potential impact on specific vulnerable groups or the influence of certain content types, such as self-harm promotion. Prof. Przybylski emphasised the need for better data from tech companies to understand the true effects of social media. The UK’s Online Safety Bill (OSB), designed to protect people from online harm, was noted, but Prof. Sonia Livingstone cautioned that the study’s broadness limited its relevance to current debates.
The study used data from Facebook, comparing user growth from 2008 to 2019 with well-being data from the Gallup World Poll Survey, covering nearly a million individuals. The researchers found no conclusive evidence that increasing social media use led to negative psychological effects. While the study didn’t establish causation, it underscored the value of tech companies sharing data with researchers, according to Prof. Peter Etchells. The study’s findings challenge assumptions, highlighting the need for further research that accesses more detailed data to better understand the complexities of social media’s impact on mental well-being.