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No evidence connecting Facebook usage and psychological harm

An independent study, conducted by Oxford scientists, found no evidence that Facebook had an adverse impact on well-being.

Despite widespread claims about the negative impact of social media platforms on welfare, research piloted by Professor Przybylski and Professor Vuorre at the Oxford Internet Institute, found that their conclusions were quite the opposite. 

Their research paper reflects that, though evidence of detrimental psychological effects linked with Facebook – and social media in general – is popular in academic and non-academic circles alike, indication of harm is always “more speculative than conclusive.“

In supporting this, Oxford researchers analysed well-being data over twelve  years from 72 countries, representing nearly a million people. As much of past research into social media usage and health has been exclusively focussed on data amassing from the Global North, resulting in inaccuracies, Professors Przybylski and Vuorre understood that to distil the best possible results on any plausible associations, they would require a wide-ranging, international database. Some co-operation from Facebook was also required, but only in providing vital data for the project. 

Critically, research looked closely at Facebook’s trends in global penetration in its earlier days (2008 – 2019), where speculation on connection between social media and wellbeing were at the forefront. In addition, they also linked data tracking Facebook’s global adoption with “three indicators of well-being: life satisfaction, negative and positive psychological experiences”. From this, the scientists found positive correlations between Facebook usage and well-being measurements in many cases.

Oxford experts also explored differences in relation to gender and age. Results found that Facebook usage and well-being had, on balance, more of a positive association among youth. Further, a more positive correlation amongst the factors was seen more for males than females. The paper stresses that while the impacts were small, they should not be overlooked.

The Facebook study aligns with previous research from Oxford’s researchers, which found that the use of technology has not increasingly over time become linked with harmful psychological outcomes. 

Professor Vuorre emphasises that their findings should now “help guide the debate surrounding social media towards more empirical research foundations.”

The full study will be published on the Royal Society website after the news embargo lifts.

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