Is Facebook hazardous to our well-being?

Is use of Facebook (and other social media sites) a genuine hazard to our physical and mental health? Are the purported benefits of digital social media outweighed by the risks?

Past research has found negatives and some positives.

“Prior research has shown that the use of social media may detract from face-to-face relationships, reduce investment in meaningful activities, increase sedentary behavior by encouraging more screen time, lead to internet addiction, and erode self-esteem through unfavorable social comparison.”

On the other hand, “skeptics have wondered if perhaps people with lower well-being are more likely to use social media, rather than social media causing lower well-being.” And, yet “other studies have found that social media use has a positive impact on well-being through increased social support and reinforcement of real world relationships” (see Harvard Business Review, 2017).

Featured article:

A large study of Facebook use found the following —

*Shakya, H. B., & Christakis, N. A. (2017). Association of Facebook use with compromised well-being: A longitudinal study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 185(3), 203-211. [PDF] [Cited by]

Face-to-face social interactions enhance well-being. With the ubiquity of social media, important questions have arisen about the impact of online social interactions. In the present study, we assessed the associations of both online and offline social networks with several subjective measures of well-being. We used 3 waves (2013, 2014, and 2015) of data from 5,208 subjects in the nationally representative Gallup Panel Social Network Study survey, including social network measures, in combination with objective measures of Facebook use. We investigated the associations of Facebook activity and real-world social network activity with self-reported physical health, self-reported mental health, self-reported life satisfaction, and body mass index. Our results showed that overall, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with well-being. For example, a 1-standard-deviation increase in “likes clicked” (clicking “like” on someone else’s content), “links clicked” (clicking a link to another site or article), or “status updates” (updating one’s own Facebook status) was associated with a decrease of 5%–8% of a standard deviation in self-reported mental health. These associations were robust to multivariate cross-sectional analyses, as well as to 2-wave prospective analyses. The negative associations of Facebook use were comparable to or greater in magnitude than the positive impact of offline interactions, which suggests a possible tradeoff between offline and online relationships.”

Questions? Please let me know (engelk@grinnell.edu).

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