People Who Quit Facebook Are Less Anxious

February 12, 2019

A new study finds those who deactivate Facebook are happier than those who don’t.

Facebook turned 15 years old this week, and it’s time to quit, new research reveals. Not for the sake of your privacy or your democracy, but, rather, according to the study, because even a short departure from Facebook can have a substantially positive impact on your well-being.

The research, conducted by a team of Stanford University and New York University economists and published in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, surveyed a sample of 2,844 Facebook users in the run-up to the 2018 mid-term elections, just over half of whom were instructed to deactivate their Facebook accounts for a four-week period. Studying “a suite of outcomes using text messages, surveys, emails, direct measurement of activity on Facebook and Twitter, and administrative records on voting and electoral contributions,” the economists sought to gauge how bailing from Facebook directly affects both individual and social welfare, from interpersonal interactions to engagement with American politics.

The results are fascinating: Deactivation significantly increased subjects’ reported subjective well-being, with dramatic impacts on everything from life satisfaction and happiness to anxiety and depression. Not only did 90 percent of respondents report a positive impact from being offline, but the study participants also grew to appreciate the significant role Facebook had played in their lives. In most cases, this meant that subjects often chose not to return to Facebook or even other forms of social media. Those who did return to Facebook reduced their post-deactivation daily mobile app use by 23 percent in the aftermath of their break.

The study finds that the average person who deactivated Facebook freed up about an hour of time every day. “The Treatment group actually spent less time on both non-Facebook social media and other online activities,” the authors write, “while devoting more time to a range of offline activities such as watching television alone and spending time with friends and family.”

Time spent off Facebook, in other words, wasn’t just funneled into other forms of digital connection: It was as though those weeks of Facebook-less existence broke all social networks’ grip on the brain.

But avoiding social media wasn’t all good. The study details one distinctly negative side effect of a Facebook sabbatical: a lack of broader knowledge of current events. Deactivation “reduced how much people reported they followed news about politics and about President [Donald] Trump, as well as the average minutes per day spent consuming news,” the researchers write. Deactivation also reduced political polarization, especially when it comes to issues of empathizing with an opposing political party.

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