Study shows de­ac­ti­vat­ing Face­book is good for you

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Nation & World - By Hamza Sha­ban

Around the world, more than 2.3 bil­lion peo­ple are on Face­book, ac­tively com­mu­ni­cat­ing and post­ing and con­sum­ing on the plat­form, a fig­ure that con­tin­ues to grow and drive record prof­its, de­spite a bar­rage of pri­vacy scan­dals and height­ened scru­tiny from U.S. law­mak­ers.

Peo­ple are not aban­don­ing Face­book, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s fourth-quar­ter earn­ings. The com­pany has re­versed a trou­bling trend in its most im­por­tant mar­ket: Face­book added users in North Amer­ica for the first time all year.

For Face­book fans, the ben­e­fits of us­ing the plat­form are clear: it’s a way to stay con­nected with friends, to con­sume news and en­ter­tain­ment, and, for busi­nesses, to find po­ten­tial cus­tomers and au­di­ences. In re­cent years, how­ever, re­searchers and con­sumer ad­vo­cates have scru­ti­nized what the down­sides of all that growth and con­nec­tiv­ity could mean for so­ci­ety and in­di­vid­ual health and well-be­ing.

But in the lat­est study mea­sur­ing the ef­fects of so­cial me­dia on a per­son’s life, re­searchers at New York Univer­sity and Stan­ford Univer­sity found that de­ac­ti­vat­ing Face­book for just four weeks could al­ter peo­ple’s be­hav­ior and state of mind.

The study found that tem­po­rar­ily quit­ting Face­book led peo­ple to spend more time off­line, watch­ing tele­vi­sion and so­cial­iz­ing with fam­ily and friends; re­duced their knowl­edge of cur­rent events and po­lar­iza­tion of pol­icy views; and pro­voked a small but sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in peo­ple’s self-re­ported hap­pi­ness and sat­is­fac­tion with their lives.

Re­searchers also found that the de­ac­ti­va­tion freed up an hour per day for the av­er­age per­son. And the peo­ple who took a break from Face­book con­tin­ued to use the plat­form less of­ten, even af­ter the ex­per­i­ment ended.

“Our study of­fers the largest-scale ex­per­i­men­tal ev­i­dence avail­able to date on the way Face­book af­fects a range of in­di­vid­ual and so­cial wel­fare mea­sures,” the re­searchers wrote. The re­searchers con­cluded the ex­per­i­ment shows the down­sides of us­ing Face­book, even as the same re­sults “leave lit­tle doubt that Face­book pro­duces large ben­e­fits for its users.”

Par­tic­i­pants said Face­book im­proves their lives in clear and di­verse ways, the re­searchers found, from en­ter­tain­ment, to or­ga­niz­ing phi­lan­thropy and ac­tivism, to pro­vid­ing so­cial bonds for peo­ple who would other­wise feel iso­lated. “Any dis­cus­sion of so­cial me­dia’s down­sides should not ob­scure the ba­sic fact that it ful­fills deep and wide­spread needs,” the re­searchers said.

But the study found that the psy­cho­log­i­cal im­prove­ments of ab­stain­ing from Face­book sug­gests that peo­ple may be us­ing the so­cial net­work more than they should. And while peo­ple are less in­formed about the news when they are away from Face­book, it also cooled par­ti­san think­ing.

In a state­ment re­leased to The Wash­ing­ton Post Thurs­day, Face­book said its teams are fo­cused on fos­ter­ing mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions on the plat­form and have pro­vided tools for users to bet­ter con­trol their ex­pe­ri­ence. “This is one study of many on this topic and it should be con­sid­ered that way,” the com­pany said, re­peat­ing the study’s own find­ings that users find clear ben­e­fits from the plat­form and that Face­book helps peo­ple stay in­formed.

JOHANNES BERG/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Peo­ple who tem­po­rar­ily de­ac­ti­vate Face­book get a uptick in life sat­is­fac­tion, a study shows.

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