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More evidence Facebook makes you feel bad

Eleven months ago, Facebook published what I then called the most extraordinary blog post in its hist
November 12 · Issue #245 · View online
The Interface
Eleven months ago, Facebook published what I then called the most extraordinary blog post in its history: an acknowledgement that, in some cases, using social media can make you feel worse about yourself. The post was based on a survey of recent academic research on the platform, which found that certain forms of mindless thumb-scrolling could be alienating.
Facebook’s proposed solution was not to use social media less, necessarily, but rather to use it differently. What followed over the next year was a series of steps designed to get people to use Facebook more “actively” — increasing the number of comments, while decreasing number of stories and videos from professional publishers in the News Feed.
Little follow-up research on the subject has been published to date. But over the weekend I read a study with something new to say on the matter: “No more FOMO: Limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression.” It’s to be published in the December edition of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. Science Daily tells us how it worked:
Each of 143 participants completed a survey to determine mood and well-being at the study’s start, plus shared shots of their iPhone battery screens to offer a week’s worth of baseline social-media data. Participants were then randomly assigned to a control group, which had users maintain their typical social-media behavior, or an experimental group that limited time on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram to 10 minutes per platform per day.
For the next three weeks, participants shared iPhone battery screenshots to give the researchers weekly tallies for each individual. With those data in hand, Hunt then looked at seven outcome measures including fear of missing out, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
Participants who reduced their time on social sites saw a statistically significant decrease in depression and loneliness, according to the study. The control group did not report an improvement.
The study’s authors present this as a milestone. Their study concludes:
The results from our experiment strongly suggest that limiting social media usage does have a direct and positive impact on subjective well-being over time, especially with respect to decreasing loneliness and depression. That is, ours is the first study to establish a clear causal link between decreasing social media use, and improvements in loneliness and depression. It is ironic, but perhaps not surprising, that reducing social media, which promised to help us connect with others, actually helps people feel less lonely and depressed. 
The study’s lead author, psychologist Melissa G. Hunt, told Science Daily that she did not recommend that people stop using social media. But limits can be helpful, she said.
Facebook didn’t respond to my request for comment. On the subject of time spent in its apps, the company has arguably already capitulated. In response to the Time Well Spent movement, the company voluntarily introduced in-app screen time limits earlier this year. (Well, it announced those limits, anyway. They still haven’t shipped for reasons no one will tell me.) Apple and Google, who control Facebook’s key distribution channels, shipped screen time management features of their own.
While the study finds evidence that social media usage can make us depressed, it doesn’t offer any thoughts on why. Hunt has offered some theories in interviews, primarily the idea that seeing other people’s happiness can create negative comparisons with our own experiences. But if we are to better understand how to manage our relationship with social networks, we need to understand those mechanics much better. To know that social media often makes us feel lonely now seems like a given. Knowing why feels like an important next step.

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