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This article was published 4/2/2019 (479 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
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. Masses of people are not abandoning Facebook, according to the company’s fourth quarter earnings, released last week. In fact, 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.
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 behaviour and state of mind. The study found that temporarily quitting Facebook led people to spend more time offline, watching TV 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.
What’s more, the researchers 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.
The study found the psychological improvements of abstaining from Facebook suggests 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 to the Washington Post last week, 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.
The 2,844 Facebook users involved in the study, which took place before the 2018 midterm elections, were not a fully representative sample, the study conceded. Participants were "relatively young, well-educated and left-leaning compared to the average Facebook user," and the study only included people who said they were on Facebook for more than 15 minutes every day.
— Washington Post
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