It is human to be scared of that which we do not know. We don’t know about life after death, for example. We don’t know what dogs are really, truly thinking. And many of us don’t know what life would be like if we actually deleted social media. And so we don’t. But thanks to a new study from researchers at Stanford University, we may be able to put our screen-weary minds at ease and finally smash that “deactivate” button.
In the most comprehensive study of its kind, published earlier this week on Social Science Research Network, a team of researchers at Stanford University has tackled one of the major underlying questions of social media, a communication method created to foster connection: Is a Facebook-free world, like, a better one?
To get an accurate reading, the research team built a sample group of 2,844 users, recruited through targeted Facebook ads, and elicited their “willingness-to-accept” (the amount of money they’d want in return) to deactivate their Facebook accounts for the four weeks leading up to the 2018 election. 58 percent of the group whose WTAs came in under $102 were assigned to an aptly named “Treatment group,” tasked with giving up Facebook cold turkey. The remaining 42 percent were used as a control.
After four weeks, the study found that members of the Treatment group experienced a rise in “subjective well-being.” Basically, they felt better. They were happier, more satisfied, and struggling less with anxiety and depression. With no Facebook account, participants freed up an average of 60 minutes per day. They increased offline social activities, like hanging out with friends and family, as well as solitary ones, or watching TV alone. And while their factual knowledge of current events dipped, so did their polarization. No, they weren’t following politics or presidential updates as closely as they had been, but their animosity towards people with opposing belief systems began to taper off, too.
Even after the trial ended, members of the Treatment group reported a decrease in their daily Facebook use. They saw the light, and the light, it seems, was warm and cozy and inviting.
Especially in the aftermath of Facebook’s latest data mining scandal - paying Gen Z and millennial users $20 a month for access to essentially everything on their phones - gone are the rosy-hued days of yore, when Facebook was used as a space for connecting with classmates from middle-school and keeping track of birthdays. As the largest social media platform in the world, with 2.7 billion monthly active users worldwide, Facebook has effectively reshaped the ways we communicate and digest information. But it’s not a permanent shift, not if Stanford’s findings are correct. It is, however, a self-imposed one.