Social media, good or bad

Is social media good for you, or bad? Well, it’s complicated. A study of 12 million social media users suggests that using Facebook is associated with living longer — when it serves to maintain and enhance your real-world social ties.

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University of California San Diego researchers William Hobbs and James Fowler, collaborating with colleagues at Facebook and Yale led the study which the researchers emphasize is and associationstudy and cannot identify causation.

The research confirms what scientists have known for a long time about the offline world: People who have stronger social networks live longer. And it documents for the first time that what happens online may matter also. First author William,  who worked on the study as a UC San Diego doctoral student in political science and is now a postdoctoral fellow at Northeastern University Hibbs said “Interacting online seems to be healthy when the online activity is moderate and complements interactions offline,” William Hobbs also said that “It is only on the extreme end, spending a lot of time online with little evidence of being connected to people otherwise, that we see a negative association.”

The senior author James Fowler said ,”Happily, for almost all Facebook users, what we found is balanced use and a lower risk of mortality.” The first finding is that those who are on Facebook live longer than those who are not. In a given year, the average Facebook user is about 12 percent less likely to die than someone who doesn’t use the site.

Out of all the people who took the test, the researchers looked at the number of post, number of photos, number of friends, number of status update and messages sent to see if people who were more active lived longer.

People with average or large social networks, in the top 50 to 30 percent, lived longer than those in the lowest 10. Those on Facebook with highest levels of offline social integration as measured by posting more photos, which suggests face-to-face social activity have the greatest longevity.

The researchers also look at the direction of friends request. The Facebook users who accepted the most friend request lived longer. This finding was a little disappointing, the researchers note, because it suggests that public health interventions urging people to go out and try to make more friends may have no effect on health.

Does it also suggest that being “popular” makes you live longer? Maybe. According to both Hobbs and Fowler, it’s hard to say which way that goes. It could be that individuals who are more likely to live longer are more attractive to others in the first place. That, as they say, needs more research.

Fowler said “The association between longevity and social networks was identified by Lisa Berkman in 1979 and has been replicated hundreds of times since,”  Fowler also said “In fact, a recent meta-analysis suggests the connection may be very strong. Social relationships seem to be as predictive of lifespan as smoking, and more predictive than obesity and physical inactivity. We’re adding to that conversation by showing that online relationships are associated with longevity, too.”