I think I speak for the majority of us in the class when I say that I spend a great deal of time using social media. In the United States, the average individual spends 40 minutes per day on just Facebook alone. This is greater than 20% of the average total time individual spends on the internet per day. This inevitably leads to the question: how does this time spent on Facebook affect our well-being?
Lucky for us, we have an answer to this. Even a scientifically conclusive one. In 2015, Morten Tromholt of the department of sociology at the University of Copenhagen set out to answer this question by conducting a study he called “The Facebook Experiment”. To determine the effect Facebook use has on well-being, he randomly selected a group of 1,095 participants. From there he divided them into two separate groups; a treatment and control group. The treatment group entirely gave up Facebook use for the week, while the control group continued to use Facebook how they normally did in their daily lives. Tromholt sought to measure their well-being both before and after the experiment by having the individuals evaluate aspects of their lives such as mood, ability to concentrate, level of worry, and level of satisfaction with their social life.
While I expected the results of this study to show that the group giving up Facebook had increased well-being, I was more than surprised to see just how large that increase was. After the experiment, the treatment group reported that their lives improved among multiple aspects: more positive emotions, increased levels of in-person social activities, increased life satisfaction, increased productivity, and higher ability to concentrate. These individuals were 18% more likely to feel present in the current moment they were living in. Conversely, those in the control group who continued their normal Facebook habits were 55% more likely to be stressed. The study took this a step further by showing that these effects are correlated to how attached one is to their Facebook, specifically that the effects are much greater for heavy Facebook users, passive Facebook users, and users who tend to envy others on Facebook.
I believe this study has merit due to the fact that it proves and quantifies the negative impact social media, particularly Facebook, has on our happiness and life satisfaction. This is a widely known phenomenon, and one we have discussed in class, but I had personally never seen the science that proves it. However, I still have lingering questions when it comes to the results…
1). My first question is whether abstaining from Facebook use would lead to the same positive results for individuals of all ages, and if so whether they would be to the same degree. It has been my experience, and one I have noted in others, that during the time I used Facebook during my adolescence, I was much more concerned about how the content I was posting would be viewed by my peers and about staying informed about everything my peers were doing. As a result of this, I believe giving up Facebook for a week during my teenage years would have caused me to stress more rather than benefit from the social media cleanse.
2). My second question is if these well-being benefits individuals receive from giving up Facebook for a week would hold true if they were to remain off Facebook for an extended period of time?
3). My third question regarding these results is whether cutting down on time spent on Facebook would allow individuals to receive some of these benefits (assumably to a lesser degree)? or is a full “cleanse” necessary to gain any benefits?
After seeing the results of this study, I am going to make it a priority of mine to cut down on the amount of time I spend on social media in hopes of receiving at least some of the benefits the individuals participating in the “Facebook Experiment” gained. I believe this is a more realistic goal for myself than giving up Facebook entirely for a week, and by approaching it this way I will be able to continue the practice over a longer period of time. Hopefully, this will help me answer my third question regarding the study’s results and who knows.. if it doesn’t seem to be working maybe a true “Facebook cleanse” would be good for me.
Your Thoughts (please)
I’m interested in hearing what you guys think regarding this! Do you believe the results? Are you persuaded to give up Facebook (and/or other platforms) to receive similar benefits? Has anyone ever participated in a similar “social media cleanse” (I’ve heard of a lot of people doing this for lent), if so what was your experience like?
(For those who are interested see here for the link to the entire University of Copenhagen study: http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/cyber.2016.0259?journalCode=cyber)