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Giving up Facebook is not so bad

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 31 January 2019, 9:18 am

The month of new year's resolutions is coming to an end, and those who chose a Facebook detox are likely to have found it beneficial to their social wellbeing. That's according to researchers at New York University and Stanford University who looked at what happens when people don't log on to their Facebook account for four weeks.

 Deactivation is mostly positive, with the results summarised as follows:

  • Reduced online activity and meant people spent more time watching TV or spending time with friends and family.
  • Reduced both factual news knowledge and political polarisation.
  • Increased subjective wellbeing.
  • Led to a reduction in Facebook use following the four-weeks of detox.

The 2,844 users who took part in the experiment were recruited through Facebook adverts and were randomly put into a Treatment Group that was paid to deactivate or a Control Group that wasn't.

The researchers found that members of the Treatment Group gained an hour in their day. "Deactivating Facebook freed up 60 minutes per day for the average person in our Treatment group," the report notes.

"The Treatment group actually spent less time on both non-Facebook social media and other online activities, while devoting more time to a range of offline activities such as watching television alone and spending time with friends and family. The Treatment group did not change its consumption of any other online or offline news sources and reported spending 15 percent less time consuming news."

The researchers note that this is one of many studies looking into the social and economic impacts of Facebook and social media, which is a testament to its profound impact on our lives. "There may be no technology since television that has so dramatically reshaped the way people communicate, get information, and spend their time."

For its part, the New York Times reports that Facebook responded to its questions about the findings by noting it was one of many studies on the social network. Facebook also quoted from the study which finds that "Facebook produces large benefits for its users," and that "any discussion of social media's downsides should not obscure the fact that it fulfils deep and widespread needs."

While this is an American study, Facebook has 2.3 billion monthly active users globally, and that obviously includes New Zealanders. Indeed, as nation we are apparently a kind of Petri dish for the social media network, according to Antonio García Martínez who wrote in his 2016 memoir Chaos Monkeys about his time working in Facebook:

"New Zealand was commonly used as a test bed for new user-facing products. It was perfect due to its English-language usage, its relative isolation in terms of the social graph (ie most friend links were internal to the country), and, frankly, its lack of newsworthiness, so any gossip or reporting of new Facebook features ran a low risk of leaking back to the real target markets of the United States and Europe. Aotearoa is the original Māori word for New Zealand, which roughly translated means "Facebook test set". Thus does that verdant island nation, graced with stunning fjords and clear alpine lakes, sample whatever random product twiddle a twenty-three-year-old Facebook engineer in Menlo Park dreams up."

And here were we thinking that Silicon Valley loved us for our depiction of hobbits.


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