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Facebook’s growth not linked to psychological harm, study finds

Facebook’s growth not linked to psychological harm, study finds

The impact of Facebook’s global proliferation on psychological well-being has been brought into question by a study conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII). Contrary to the prevailing notion that social media, including Facebook, leads to widespread psychological harm, the study challenges this belief by examining how well-being evolved in 72 countries as the usage of the platform increased.

While countries like the UK are contemplating legislation to safeguard social media users from online harm, the study offers an alternative perspective. Notably, Meta, the company that owns Facebook, has been under scrutiny due to allegations from whistleblowers and leaked documents suggesting that their internal research pointed to negative effects on certain users.

Conducted by independent researchers Prof Andrew Przybylski and Matti Vuorre, the study solely focused on Facebook, omitting other platforms under Meta such as Instagram. The research aimed to address a crucial question: Does the well-being of populations decline as social media becomes more ingrained in their lives?

Contrary to common belief, the data and analysis presented by the OII did not reveal a negative correlation between the growth of social media use and well-being decline. This conclusion challenges the conventional notion that social media is universally detrimental to psychological health.

The study, however, is limited in its scope. It examined the overall effects of Facebook use on a national level and did not delve into the impact on specific vulnerable groups. For instance, it might have overlooked potential negative consequences for smaller groups if they were outweighed by positive impacts on others. The study also did not investigate the risks associated with certain types of content, like materials promoting self-harm.

One of the main takeaways from the research is the need for better access to data from technology companies to comprehensively understand the effects of social media. The authors emphasized that while some concerns about social media’s impact might be exaggerated, the lack of access to crucial data hampers a thorough analysis.

The study’s relevance to ongoing legislative efforts, like the UK’s Online Safety Bill, was debated. While the study’s general skepticism towards the anxieties around screen time is acknowledged, it might not offer direct guidance to current regulatory debates, particularly when it comes to protecting children, as the study did not specifically focus on younger users.

The study’s foundation lies in a substantial amount of data provided by Facebook, yet it is important to note that both researchers were independent of the company and the study was not funded by them. Comparing Facebook user growth data from 2008 to 2019 with well-being data collected through the Gallup World Poll Survey, the researchers found no conclusive evidence linking increasing social media adoption to negative effects on psychological well-being.

While the study doesn’t establish a causal relationship between Facebook use and well-being, it highlights the importance of transparency and cooperation between technology companies and researchers. Meta, acknowledging the significance of the study, expressed hope that it would foster productive discussions among policymakers, parents, and academics to better understand the complexities of well-being in the digital age.


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