Right now, one of your friends is doing something and you don’t know about it. Quick, get on Facebook and see what’s happening!
Okay, now that you’re back, never left or know what everyone is doing at all times… Facebook has been in the news a lot lately, from the promotion of fake news, to its apparent role in the election of Donald Trump. For many average users, though, Facebook is simply a way of staying in contact with old friends or sharing pictures of your pugs with family on the other side of the planet. But what if the world’s biggest social network is actually making us depressed?
A study recently published in the journal “Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking” by Morten Stromholt of the University of Copenhagen has found that quitting Facebook can lead to increased feelings of happiness and well being. This causal effect was found to be strongest in those who use Facebook heavily, those who don’t post often but passively browse (Facebook stalkers to you and me) and those who look at others’ posts and get a case of FB envy.
In the study, around 1095 Danish people were split into two groups – one group would quit FB entirely for a week and the other group kept using FB exactly as they did before (which was at least one hour per day). Before and after this week, the participants completed a study to determine their mood, general levels of happiness and life satisfaction. The group who gave up on FB for the week were found to have higher levels of life satisfaction and overall happiness compared to the FB-using group.
Stromholt then dug down in to the numbers to see if there were any other results that could be taken from the experiment and found that the positive effects of quitting FB were higher for those who use FB heavily (spending a great deal of time on the site, documenting their breakfast or letting everyone know they’ve been to the gym, for example); those who can’t help but snoop on others’ profiles to see what they’re up to, who they’re with and what their favourite brunch spot is, and those who can’t help but get a bit of the old green-eyed monster coming on by looking at how wonderful their friends’ lives appear to be. For those who are the opposite of the above three categories, those who use Facebook rarely, don’t snoop on others and content enough with their lives to not be envious of others, the effects of quitting Facebook were almost non-existent – no surprises there, then.
There were some “limitations” to the experiment, Stromholt mentions in his paper. Some of these limitations were that of those who agreed to take part in the survey, 86% were women and so to extend the findings from this experiment to the general population would not be entirely representative as men may respond differently. The second was that the volunteers taking part in the survey might have come up with their own ideas about how FB makes them feel before they began and this would affect the answers given in the questionnaires at the beginning and end of the weeklong experiment.
It would be interesting to see a larger study on different age groups, especially teenagers, to measure the effect social media has on their mental wellbeing. Facebook is the tip of the social iceberg – what would happen to those who quit everything from Facebook to Instagram, Snapchat and maybe even Myspace (that’s a joke for all the ‘00s kids out there).
It is clear that, in this experiment at least, that quitting FB can make people feel happier so why do so many people use it? Some studies have shown that posting regularly can make a person feel less lonely because they feel more connected to their friends and family. Living more than 16,000 Km from most of the people I know, I can relate to this. It’s a lot easier to let people know what’s going on in my life by taking a picture of my brunch and chucking it online for them to see. We each have our own reasons for using social media but maybe the next time you find yourself idly scrolling through the same posts for the fifth time that evening, try putting the phone down and actually having a conversation with someone, be present in that moment or just eat your smashed avo and poached egg, rather than taking a picture of it!
Read more from Mark by getting involved on social media (oh, the delicious irony):