Study Hacks Blog

More Evidence of Facebook’s Negative Impact

March 10th, 2020 · 22 comments

Last week, I wrote about a paper appearing in the American Economic Review that conducted a randomized trial to measure the personal impact of deactivating Facebook. A few days later, a different study was published, this one appearing in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, that also deployed a randomized trial to measure the impact of reduced Facebook use.

The authors of this new paper, a group of psychologists from Ruhr-Universität Bochum, in Germany, randomly split a group of roughly three hundred volunteers into an experiment and control group. The participants in the experiment group were asked to reduce their daily Facebook use, while the control group made no changes.

Personal impacts were measured with online surveys administered at regular intervals. To summarize the paper’s main findings:

“Life satisfaction significantly increased, and depressive symptoms significantly decreased. Moreover, frequency of physical activity such as jogging or cycling significantly increased, and number of daily smoked cigarettes decreased. Effects remained stable during follow-up (three months). Thus, less time spent on Facebook leads to more well-being and a healthier lifestyle.”

Based on what I observed researching Digital Minimalism, a key dynamic at play in these numbers is likely the shift from Facebook to more rewarding activities. This is what participants in my own study kept reporting: it’s not that the time they spent on social media was always negative on its own, the problem was instead the time social media took away from other activities that are more positive.

A deep life, in other words, tends to minimize the hours spent staring mindlessly at screens, but it does so not because the screens are bad, but because there’s too much else good going on to spare the attention.

22 thoughts on “More Evidence of Facebook’s Negative Impact

  1. I find Facebook unbearably trivial, a dumping ground for barely conscious maunderings.

    1. Carl says:

      I had to look up the definition of maunder. It fits perfectly. Beyond that, I think it can go two ways at least–bluntly, if you don’t have a life, Facebook gives you one. Or gradually, Facebook takes up all your inner bandwidth and life force with it.

      1. Shane says:

        I had to look that word up to! Couldn’t agree more.

    2. Carmel Gafa says:

      Well said. I’m happy and sad for you.

      1. Lazlo Hollyfeld says:

        Best reply ever.

  2. Erik says:

    So it’s not Facebook per se. Had participants just switched to Instagram or Twitter no positive effects would have been measured?

  3. Pascale says:

    I think social media content is bad also. Not only does it take us away from more healthy, productive, social activities, but being constantly exposed to other people’s carefully curated digital lives makes us feel inadequate over time. Also, measuring one’s self-worth by the number of likes or comments one gets is seriously unhealthy and can lead to anxiety and depression, esp in younger users. Since I drastically cut my usage of social media, I feel more calm, at peace, present, productive ans dare I say, happy!

  4. Megan says:

    I find that some people do more cool stuff in their life than they otherwise might simply so they can share it on social media…would this be a positive or just an ego problem?

    1. Geoff says:

      You’re probably observing a relatively rare subset of users.

    2. Scott says:

      Neither.
      Another way to look at this is that if social media was not used, the “cool things” they do would be different altogether – and usually are not propagated by SM anyhow…
      Cool things like:
      – regaining over 2 extra hours a day back to do something or nothing.
      -Shedding anxiety
      -increasing ones feeling of self worth
      -An attention span that surpasses that of a goldfish
      – The rare ability to eat a plate of food without posting it first.

      These things….These are cool. 🙂
      (The opinions expressed are not opinions, but facts- discovered by me – a recovered Twitter TWIT since 2017)

  5. Shane says:

    Unfortunately I don’t think the tide will turn any time soon, most of the events, classes, etc I go to IRL seem to put updates on FB as the default go-to. I wish they would use a less egregious platform, even a blog page would be just as simple and quick to update but would have less of the downsides. To paraphrase something from one of Cal’s books it’s pretty shocking how one private company seems to have created a mindset of either you use our services or you’re a weirdo.

    Although – I would be interested to see what the age demographic is becoming for FB. Judging by what I see generally commented in other areas of the internet, younger people seem to be starting to find FB ‘cringey’.

    1. Joe says:

      According to Statista (https://www.statista.com/statistics/187041/us-user-age-distribution-on-facebook/) the largest user group currently is 25-34. There’s a clear dropoff below that, which leads to an average age that’s believed to be around 40. It’s absolutely dying among younger users. We’ve moved a lot of our university study groups and course info back to our LMS, which has a great mobile app, because even those who have FB don’t want to do have their school life overlap with their social life.

      1. Shane says:

        Thank you for sharing that graph, fascinating stuff. I think school, or work for that matter overlapping with social media can’t be good for anyone’s mental health.

        I’m starting to notice (this does risk sounding a bit like snobbery) that the most tech-savvy seem to be the ones avoiding Facebook.

  6. Tim says:

    I quit and deleted all social media almost two years ago and the impact it’s made on my life is quite significant. Of course, mine is a one-person study, but that’s what it always is for anyone who tries. It’s interesting to see these studies come out.

    1. Andres says:

      Why would you think commenting here and social media are kind of the same thing, George? I ask because i’m honestly curious.

  7. George Bellarious says:

    Totally different than comments on blog posts, right everybody?

    1. Tyler Morgan says:

      I think there are a lot of differences. But one important difference is the absence of a like button. If you want to participate in Cal’s blog community, you have to actually add to the conversation, and there is no trolling for likes.

    2. EA says:

      Yes. It’s totally different. Here you don’t read a continuous flow of political rants and don’t see an infinite amount of people sharing their latest best picture of their latest best vacation. Here we’re focused on sharing opinions on very selected topic.

    3. Joe says:

      Kudos on the apples to t-shirts comparison.

      If you can’t see the different reading a blog post, having a discussion about the topic, and then moving and a never ending cycle of likes and shares while observing new posts at all times, then this probably isn’t a topic you’re cut out to handle.

  8. @akaTGIF says:

    I used to be a mindless user of Facebook.
    I did not have fomo but what I did have was a very bad habit of checking Facebook many times a day. Honestly I could not control the urge – sadly I was checking Facebook during work hours so I pulled the plug and deleted my Facebook account.

    I have Instagram and Twitter but make it a point to only post occasionally and only check these platforms at the end of the day when I’m at home and work is done.

    My takeaway from my intentional did digital minimalism adoption;

    1. When I was immersed in the throes of the social media add I could not see how badly this was crippling my productivity.

    2. I also couldn’t see or comprehend how packing my brain with useless data was causing negative effects on multiple levels. Becoming free of Facebook I could quantify how much more focused and how much more effective I was at managing tasks and responsibilities.

    3. Now that I have less digital Data entering my brain I can now see the negative effects it had on me. I can quantify see the difference today

    Thank you Cal I’ve been following you since about 2008 or 2010.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *