LONDON. – There is no evidence the global spread of Facebook is linked to widespread psychological harm, an Oxford Internet Institute (OII) study suggests.
The research looked at how well-being changed in 72 countries as use of the social media platform grew.
It counters the common belief that social media is psychologically harmful, the researchers argue.
Several countries, including the UK, are considering legislation to protect social media users from online harms.
Meta, which owns Facebook, has faced scrutiny following testimony from whistle-blowers and press reports based on leaks that suggested the company’s own research pointed to negative impacts on some users.
This research only looked at Facebook and not Meta’s other platforms, which include Instagram.
Prof Andrew Przybylski, of the OII, told the BBC the study tried to answer the question:
“As countries become more saturated with social media, how does the wellbeing of their populations look?”
“It’s commonly thought that this is a bad thing for wellbeing. And the data that we put together, and the data that we analysed didn’t show that that was the case.”
However, the report might, for example, miss negative impacts on small groups of users if they were offset by positive impacts on others, Prof Przybylski accepted.
It also did not drill down to examine the risks presented by certain types of content, such as material promoting self-harm.
For Prof Przybylski, the main policy lesson from the study was that researchers needed access to better data from tech firms to answer questions about the effect of social media:
“You know, we have a situation where a handful of people are crying wolf, about social media. But we don’t actually have the data, we don’t have the materials we need to build a wolf detector,” he said.
Prof Sonia Livingstone, of the London School of Economics, cautioned that the study’s relevance to the OSB was limited.
“The authors’ broad critique – that screen-time anxieties are not much supported by robust evidence – is fair.
“However, the study reported here is so general as to be of little use to current regulatory or clinical debates,” she told the BBC. – BBC.