Quitting specific social networks – temporarily or permanently – is an increasingly-common pastime. But does it improve your life? A study at Stanford University has been finding out, focusing on Facebook with a study of 2,844 of its users in the US. A subset of them deactivated their accounts for four weeks. And the main findings?
“Facebook deactivation (i) reduced online activity, including other social media, while increasing offline activities such as watching TV alone and socialising with family and friends; (ii) reduced both factual news knowledge and political polarisation; (iii) increased subjective well-being; and (iv) caused a large persistent reduction in Facebook use after the experiment,” explains the study.
Cue some headlines focusing on the ‘quitting Facebook increases your wellbeing’ finding, but the study is more nuanced. “Our results leave little doubt that Facebook produces large benefits for its users… whether as a source of entertainment, a means to organise a charity or an activist group, or a vital social lifeline for those who are otherwise isolated. Any discussion of social media’s downsides should not obscure the basic fact that it fulfils deep and widespread needs.” But it does also acknowledge those downsides, including addiction and polarisation. “We hope that our analysis can help move the discussion from simplistic caricatures to hard evidence.”