In 2016, it's commonplace to worry about the negative effects of social media: it prevents us from connecting with each other in person, we're living life behind a screen rather than experiencing it firsthand. However, a new study of 12 million Facebook accounts suggests that using Facebook could be tied to living longer.
The findings indicate that being active on social media could increase your longevity, but there is one caveat: it only applies if your online social interactions serve to increase your real world social interactions.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, compared 12 million Facebook profiles against California Department of Public Health vital records and used longitudinal statistical models to determine whether social media use could be associated with a longer life. Researchers studied these accounts for a period of six months, comparing activity of those still living with those who died.
The detailed study was approved by three university and state review boards, but according to the New York Times, Facebook was involved in the study as well. William Hobbs, 29, the first author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at Northeastern University, was a Facebook research intern in 2013. Moira Burke, another author, worked on the study while she was a research scientist at Facebook. Hobbs told the New York Times that Facebook did not interfere with the study's findings.
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They found that behaviors like posting photos were associated with longevity, because it's an indicator of real life experiences. Photos on Facebook are often tagged, which is a strong predictor that the people in the photo have a real-life relationship. On the other hand, online only behaviors like sending messages, had a nonlinear correlation.
In fact "likes," were found to be negatively associated with the chance of an in-person relationship, and if you're the type who often goes on a "liking spree" in your news feed, then you know this to be true.
Overall, using Facebook moderately was associated with the lowest mortality rate.
"Interacting online seems to be healthy when the online activity is moderate and complements interactions offline," Hobbs told McKnight's Senior Living. "It is only on the extreme end, spending a lot of time online with little evidence of being connected to people otherwise, that we see a negative association."
Interestingly, the study also found that receiving friend requests was associated with longevity, but sending friend requests was not. Researchers observed that those who accepted the most friend requests on Facebook lived the longest. Maybe a good reason to finally accept that long-pending friend request from your great-aunt.
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