A new study of 12 million Facebook users suggests that moderate usage may be linked to a lower mortality rate

By Alex Heigl
Updated November 01, 2016 03:47 PM
Boy using an Ipad??
Credit: Getty

Turns out all those hours endlessly scrolling through Facebook might actually be extending your life.

That’s at least according to the results of a new study published in the journal PNAS on Monday, which essentially argues that an active social life online can be as beneficial as one conducted in the real world.

“We find that people with more friends online are less likely to die than their disconnected counterparts,” the paper reads. “This evidence contradicts assertions that social media have had a net-negative impact on health.”

Approved by three university and state review boards, the study does, however have one large knock against it: At least two individuals who conducted it have or are currently working for Facebook. (Postdoctoral fellow at Northeastern University, William Hobbs worked at Facebook as a research intern in 2013 and another of the paper’s authors, Moira Burke, worked on it as a research scientist at Facebook.)

But Hobbs was adamant the site — while they were “pretty confident” of what the study would find — did not interfere with the work. “We had some things in writing that they couldn’t interfere with the publication of the research no matter what the result was,” he explained to The New York Times.

The study looked at a staggering 12 million Facebook profiles and records from the California Department of Health. All of the subjects were born from 1945 to 1989, and studying them revealed that “moderate use” of Facebook was associated with a low mortality rate. Interesting, receiving friend requests seemed to lower mortality, while sending them did not affect mortality. The paper noted another online mirror of offline patterns: People with large or average social networks lived longer than people who had small ones.

The paper does acknowledge the “many limitations” of the study, noting that since Facebook is but one unique site among a horde of social media sites, the data might not apply to other networks people frequent. Also, the findings represent a correlative relationship, not a causal one, i.e., there is no evidence that Facebook has a direct effect on your health.

This new study might supplant the oft-cited 2013 paper that found the more subjects used Facebook in a two-week period, the worse they rated their own personal happiness. That paper concluded that, “On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection, [but] rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.”

Facebook: Choose your own adventure.