Study reveals no correlation between Facebook's popularity and mental health problems

According to a study from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), there is no evidence that the global expansion of Facebook is associated with pervasive psychological harm.

The study analyzed how 72 countries' well-being changed as social media usage increased.

According to the researchers, this contradicts the widely held belief that social media is psychologically detrimental. Several nations, including the United Kingdom, are contemplating legislation to protect social media users from online threats.

Following testimony from whistleblowers and press reports based on leaks that implied the company's own research indicated negative effects on some users, Facebook's owner, Meta, has come under scrutiny. This study examined only Facebook and not Meta's other platforms, including Instagram.

Prof. Andrew Przybylski of the OII told sources that the study aimed to answer the query, "As countries become more inundated with social media, how does the general well-being of their populations look?" He stated, "It is commonly believed that this is detrimental to health. And neither the data we compiled nor the data we analyzed indicated that to be the case."

Prof. Przybylski's previous OII research also found no correlation between adolescents' technology use and mental health issues. However, the report only examined the national-level effects of Facebook usage.

The generalized findings would not disclose the effects of Facebook use on vulnerable groups. Prof. Przybylski acknowledged that it might overlook negative impacts on small groups of users if they were countered by positive impacts on others.

It did not delve into the risks posed by certain categories of content, such as content that promotes self-harm.

According to Prof. Przybylski, the most important policy implication of the study was that researchers required better data from tech companies in order to answer questions about the impact of social media.

The Online Safety Bill (OSB) is in its concluding stages of parliamentary approval before becoming law in the United Kingdom. It is intended to secure users from online threats.

Prof. Sonia Livingstone of the London School of Economics cautioned, however, that the study's applicability to the OSB was limited.

Reasonable is the authors' general criticism that screen-time anxieties are not supported by substantial evidence. She told the sources that this research is so general that it has little relevance to ongoing regulatory and clinical debates.

And while the OSB prioritizes protecting children, the research does not examine them as a distinct group, and "children do not use Facebook in large numbers." Prof. Przybylski and co-author Matti Vuorre's peer-reviewed study is founded on a vast quantity of Facebook data.

Both researchers are independent from the corporation, and the tech giant did not fund their research.

Facebook provided the researchers with information on how the number of users in each country increased between 2008 and 2019, broken down by age group (13 to 34 and over 35).

Overall, the researchers discovered no evidence that an increase in social media usage has a negative impact on psychological health. Prof. Peter Etchells, a professor of psychology and science communication at Bath Spa University, remarked that the "broad strokes" study was intriguing.

As the authors make clear, however, he asserted that there was no mention of cause and effect. He noted that this demonstrated the value of technology companies extending their doors to researchers.