Using social media has very limited effects on teenagers’ wellbeing, according to a new large-scale study from the University of Oxford.
Researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) surveyed 12,000 people to find out whether adolescents who spent a lot of time on social media were unhappier because of it.
Their findings, contrary to much of the existing literature on the topic, suggested that most links between how fulfilling teenagers found their lives to be and their level of social media use are actually quite trivial.
Without access to social media companies’ data, research may be stifled
However, they warned that without greater access to the data held by social media companies such as Facebook it wouldn’t be possible to fully understand their impact.
In the paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) the scientists criticised the standards of previous research.
Professor Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the OII, said: “Given the rapid pace of technological advancement in recent years, the question of how our increasing use of technology to interact with each other affects our wellbeing has become increasingly important.
“With most of the current debate based on lacklustre evidence, this study represents an important step towards mapping the effects of technology on adolescent wellbeing.”
Dr Amy Orben, a co-author of the study, added: “The previous literature was based almost entirely on correlations with no means to dissociate whether social media use leads to changes in life satisfaction or changes in life satisfaction influence social media use.”
Government says tech firms have got away with avoiding responsibility for their content for ‘too long’
Previous literature studying social media use on teens has been criticised
The researchers did establish some interesting bidirectional effects.
They found that lower life satisfaction seemed to drive social media use in the same way that social media use seemed to drive lower life satisfaction, but these were described as “modest trends”.
Dr Tobias Dienlin, from the University of Hohenheim, who also worked on the study, said: “More than half of the statistical models we tested were not significant.”
Of the statistical models which were significant, “the effects were not as simple as often stated in the media”, Dr Dienlin added.
Dr Orben said: “While our study is a very promising step towards robust science in this area, it is only the first step.
“To ultimately understand how the diverse uses of social media affect teenagers we need industry data.”
Professor Przybylski added: “Moving forward access to this kind of data will be key to understanding the many roles that social media plays in the lives of young people.”