By Vanessa Ford
Would you quit Facebook? For a week? For a month? Stanford University and New York University researchers recently asked this question when they enlisted nearly 3000 people over age 18 for a study, the most comprehensive one to date, on the influence of Facebook. After my recent attempt to spend less time online and more time offline I was comforted by a New York Times article by Benedict Carey outlining this study–and the similar effects, also felt by others, of this social media break up.
Once praised for being the original social network, Facebook is now scrutinized by the media and psychologists alike. Privacy and political concerns have plagued the network resulting in decreased use and stock value. As Carey notes, psychologists argue that increased use may be linked to higher levels of mental distress, especially among adolescents. Despite this, users still find themselves heavily entangled with the platform and unable to quit.
The researchers that led the study, an economist and economics professor, split the study into two groups, those who were asked to deactivate their Facebook accounts and the control group. Study participants included both heavy and light users. The going rate to be pried away was about $100/month. Contrary to current presumptions, some of the abstainers reported missing the network for various reasons. Participants reported missing connections, live streaming of unifying events and news. Noted in the study is the emphasis users place on getting news from the platform. Not noted is how worrisome this may be, especially since Facebook is the gatekeeper of content. Yet on the plus, abstainers reported a decreased sense of political polarization. This raises a lot of questions around what news/stories we are exposed to and how we react to that news¬–and Facebook’s role in that reaction. In addition, some subjects reported hating the interactions in the comment sections of news stories. It appears the platform has become a battlefield for divisive content. Selective news feeds are one thing, although ironically the most divisive content is user generated and rears its ugly head in comment sections. One might ask why the platform does not limit this yet this restriction has the potential to infringe on our freedom of expression.
The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, did not tell us anything we may not already know. However, Dr.Kross, a psychologist at the University of Michigan who has led similar research, says that this study established that there is a relationship and causal connection between Facebook use and well-being. We are past the point of saying that no relationship exists. The study found a small but positive effect on people’s moods when they broke up with the network. The time spent offline averaged about an hour a day and the time was actually spent off line and not on other social media platforms. Users reported spending more time with family and friends and engaging in other activities. However, the feel-good effect may have been short-lived. Those who abstained and said they would do so long term eventually got back on. Unfortunately, It may take a bit more than $100 to stay away from this ex’s grip.
The article: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/30/health/facebook-psychology-health.html
The study: http://web.stanford.edu/~gentzkow/research/facebook.pdf