A study conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) suggests that there is no evidence to support the commonly held belief that the global spread of Facebook is linked to widespread psychological harm. The research analysed changes in well-being across 72 countries as the use of the social media platform increased. The findings challenge the idea that social media is inherently psychologically harmful.

The study, which focused solely on Facebook and not other platforms owned by Meta, comes at a time when many countries, including the UK, are considering legislation to protect social media users from online harms. Meta, which owns Facebook, has faced criticism and scrutiny due to whistle-blower testimony and leaked reports indicating that the company’s own research pointed to negative impacts on users.

Professor Andrew Przybylski of the OII noted that the research aimed to determine how the well-being of populations changed as countries became more saturated with social media. Contrary to common assumptions, the analysis did not find a significant negative impact on well-being as social media usage increased.

However, the study’s scope was limited to the overall impact of Facebook use on a national level and did not delve into the potential effects on vulnerable groups or the influence of specific types of content. The study also underscored the need for better access to data from tech companies to inform research on the impact of social media.

The UK’s Online Safety Bill (OSB), currently in its final stages of becoming law, seeks to protect individuals from online harm. Professor Sonia Livingstone of the London School of Economics pointed out that while the study’s general critique of screen-time anxieties lacking robust evidence is valid, the research’s broad nature limits its direct applicability to current regulatory and clinical discussions.

The study, authored by Prof Przybylski and Matti Vuorre, was peer-reviewed and based on a substantial dataset provided by Facebook. The research, which encompassed data on user growth between 2008 and 2019, compared this information with well-being data collected by the Gallup World Poll Survey. The researchers concluded that there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that the expansion of Facebook use globally is inherently linked to negative psychological well-being outcomes.