There is no evidence to suggest using Facebook is detrimental to wellbeing, Oxford scientists have said, challenging the view that the social media platform is linked to psychological harm.
Researchers from the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute analysed data from nearly a million people across 72 countries over 12 years – in the largest study of its kind – to understand more about the impact of Facebook on wellbeing.
Professor Andrew Przybylski, who co-led the research published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, said: “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.”
The research looked at Facebook data from 2008 to 2019, going back to when the platform was in its early stages.
“We examined 72 countries’ per capita active Facebook users in males and females in two age brackets, 13-34 years and 35+ years,” the researchers said.
The results also showed the association between using Facebook and wellbeing was slightly more positive for males as well as for younger people.
Writing in the research paper, the authors said: “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.”
Professor Matti Vuorre, also of the Oxford Internet Institute, who co-led the study, said: “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.”
Commenting on the study, Peter Etchells, professor of psychology and science communication at Bath Spa University, said: “This is a fascinating study that attempts to link Facebook uptake with measures of mental wellbeing in a broad-strokes manner, using data from over 70 countries.
“Contrary to popular sentiment, the researchers didn’t find a negative association between the two; instead, it was generally the case that there were positive associations between country-level Facebook uptake and mental wellbeing.
“To my mind, the value in this study lies in proof of principle – it demonstrates that it’s possible to leverage industry data to address meaningful questions about how digital technology interacts with our mental health.”
But Prof Etchells said there were some caveats associated with the findings – which the study authors have addressed.
He said: “This is a descriptive study, and as such cannot tell us anything about causation – that is, we don’t know how, if, or to what extent, changes in Facebook adoption drive changes in mental wellbeing.
“Wellbeing is a complex phenomenon, and even in the context of social media use, we need to be careful drawing any firm conclusions by looking at how people use a single platform such as Facebook.”