Quitting Facebook makes people happier, study finds

Quitting Facebook makes people happier, less engaged with news, and more likely to spend time with friends and family, according to a study.

Researchers at Stanford University and New York University also found that once people quit Facebook temporarily, they spend less time online overall, ditching other websites for real-world interactions too.

A new study titled ‘The Welfare Effects of Social Media’ asked almost 3,000 moderate Facebook users to log out for a month to see what happened.

The findings are released just as Facebook marks its 15th birthday, having expanded from a dormitory room hobby project to a network of websites and apps with more than 2.7bn users every month. 

As well as a social media outlet for interacting with friends and family, Facebook has also grown into a major news source for millions all over the world.

The study took place last November, coinciding with the 2018 US midterm elections, and offered 2,844 people $100 to log off for a month.

The research team — Hunt Allcott of NYU and Luca Braghieri, Sarah Eichmeyer, and Matthew Gentzkow of Stanford — checked the participants’ Facebook profiles several times each day to make sure that they were leaving their accounts deactivated. 

Participants also received daily text messages asking how they were feeling. These responses were contrasted with a control group that continued to use the app as they had previously.

Those who logged off Facebook for a month found themselves with a lot more free time on their hands: Deactivating Facebook freed up 60 minutes per day for the average person in the study.

However, the research team was surprised to find that, rather than logging on to other websites, people were actually more inclined to switch off entirely from their digital connections and spend more time watching TV, socialising with friends and family, or exercising.

Participants also found that they were much happier after they logged out of their Facebook accounts. This is consistent with findings in other studies.

“Deactivation caused small but significant improvements in well-being, and in particular on self- reported happiness, life satisfaction, depression, and anxiety,” they wrote.

Another of key outcome of the study is that participants consumed less news when they weren’t using Facebook. 

News knowledge and attention to politics declined and participants were “less able to correctly answer factual questions about recent news events”.

There was no detectable effect on political engagement but deactivation “significantly reduced polarisation of views on policy issues”.

The final point of the study was to look at whether logging off Facebook for a month had any long-term impact on whether people were likely to start using the platform again once the study had ended.

Several weeks after the study ended, those who had deactivated Facebook were using the app 12 minutes less than those in the control group, who had kept using the app during the study.

Five percent of those who had deactivated their accounts had not reactivated them nine weeks after the experiment ended.

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