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Facebook might be “detrimental to mental health,” new TAU study suggests

Updated: Sep 22, 2022

“On Social Media and Mental Health” examines the negative impact Facebook had on college students

Illustration. BIGSTOCK/copyright: asjandelight
Illustration. BIGSTOCK/copyright: asjandelight

Social media might be “detrimental to mental health,” warns a new study co-authored by a Tel Aviv University scholar.

The study, titled “On Social Media and Mental Health,” examines the negative impact Facebook has on adolescents and young adults, by zooming in on college students during the first 2.5 years following the social media platform’s gradual introduction, between 2004 and 2006.

In September 2005, says the study, approximately 85% of students had a Facebook profile. In early 2006, close to three-quarters of users logged into the site at least once a day, and the average user logged in six times a day. As of early 2006, Facebook was the ninth most visited website on the Internet, despite not yet being open to the general public

“We find that the roll-out of Facebook at a college increased symptoms of poor mental health, especially depression,” write the researchers, adding that “among students predicted to be most susceptible to mental illness, the introduction of Facebook led to increased utilization of mental healthcare services.”

The research also discovered that, after Facebook was introduced on the college scene, students were “more likely to report experiencing impairments to academic performance resulting from poor mental health, and that “Additional evidence on mechanisms suggests that the results are due to Facebook fostering unfavorable social comparisons.

Of course, this is not the first time the negative influence of social media platforms has been discussed. In late 2021, Facebook (now Meta) came under fire for allegedly disrupting and concealing the results of a troubling internal study about the toxic effects Instagram has on teenage girls, reaching as far as suicide. And this is only one example out of many.

Overall, our results are consistent with the hypothesis that social media might be partly responsible for the recent deterioration in mental health among teenagers and young adults,” the researchers conclude, suggesting that “It is up to social media platforms, regulators, and future research to determine whether and how these effects can be alleviated.”

The study was led by Dr. Roee Levy of the Berglas School of Economics at Tel Aviv University, together with Prof. Alexey Makarin (MIT Sloan) and Prof. Luca Braghieri (Universita Bocconi). It will be published in the American Economic Review.

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