6

An interesting study as summarized on a PT blog:

According to a 2014 study published in Computers in Human Behavior, most people aren't using social media to be social. Only about 9 percent of Facebook's users' activities involve communicating with others.

Instead, most users consume random pieces of content. And researchers found that passively consuming information isn't fulfilling or satisfying.

Study participants experienced a sharp decline in their moods after scrolling through Facebook. Interestingly, they didn't experience the same emotional decline when they surfed the internet. The toll on mental health was unique to Facebook.

Through a series of studies, researchers concluded that by the time people log out of Facebook, they feel like they've wasted their time. Their remorse over being unproductive causes them to feel sad.

Has this finding been corroborated by other studies on "social networking" sites? I put the term in quotes because if this study is confirmed, then Facebook seems involve little actual social networking. So perhaps a new term is needed... "fake social networking"? (heh.)

The same PT blog cites a more recent (2016) paper (and actually gives a link to this one, unlike the 2014 one) which proposed a different explanation for the Facebook-induced sadness, namely friends envy, especially for users that have a more consumer/passive participation. I'm actually less interested in untangling an underlying factor (in this Skeptics question) than confirming that a sadness-inducing effect is common for Facebook users.

4

It didn't take me long to find a 2017 study to the contrary of the main effect... actually they found a weak one moderated by neuroticism, and so they pulled out the moral-panic yellow card (quoting from their discussion section):

In the realm of video games, there is a warning sign that the scientific community is involved in creating the moral panic over violent video games by selectively reporting research that fits pre-existing beliefs, publication biases (i.e. null findings are more difficult to get published than significant findings) or using small effects to derive strong conclusions on intervention (For a review, see Ferguson, 2013b).

There is a question whether such moral panic exists in psychological research on social media. Contradictory to the popular claim of “Facebook Depression”, the present study found no significant correlation between Facebook and depressive symptoms in an age and ethnic diverse sample. The observed effect size, even for the neurotic participants (ß = 0.22), is quite small

In addition, two of the most well-reported stressors associated with Facebook use (Facebook social comparison and envy) were not found to moderate the association between Facebook use and depressive symptoms.We are cautious that any conclusions about clinical and educational practices and the optimal amount of social media uses are not warranted at this stage. Future research could consider to do a meta-analytic review on the Facebook-Depression linkage with sufficient use of publication bias analysis to examine the overall association between Facebook use and depressive symptoms

I guess this goes into the bin of controversial social psychology topics, for now.

On the other hand 2018 brought us...

A survey of 1,500 14 to 24 year olds in the UK, published by Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement (YHM), found that Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook were the three worst social media platforms for having negative mental health effects on children. The report states that this might be related to depression, but there may also be links to an increase in cyberbullying, worsening sleep, and feelings of social isolation and anxiety.

And the actual report, not being published in a dreary academic journal, can unleash web 2.0 infographs on us. Such as this overall pegging of sites they asked about:

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And for each they have somewhat more informative detail graph. I'll only add the Facebook one here:

enter image description here

The non-YouTube sites actually have a pretty similar profile, with only intensity (rather than polarity) variations for depression. Only YouTube (among these sites) "undepressed" users. Alas the report lacks any actual numerical data; maybe there's an accompanying dreary academic publication reporting it, but I haven't found it.

  • The PT blog posts appear to talk about sadness, whereas this study seems to investigate depressive symptoms. I'm not a psychologist, but this makes me wonder whether the 2017 study and the earlier studies really investigate the same psychological phenomenon, and therefore whether they are really comparable. – Schmuddi Jun 26 '18 at 11:34
  • @Schmuddi: yes that's indeed an issue. I'm trying to get a hold of the 2014 paper to see what measure of sadness they used. It's clear that the 2017 paper is dissing the 2016 one though, on social/friends envy being the mediator. – Fizz Jun 26 '18 at 11:52
  • @Schmuddi: I found that the 2014 paper (see link under question) used the "Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS)" which is also commonly used to assess depressive symptoms, so whether one chooses to present that as sadness or depression is more of a matter of terminology. These papers don't imply any long term effect, that would qualify as DSM-style Major Depressive Disorder etc. – Fizz Jun 26 '18 at 11:59
  • The 2017 paper used DASS as its measure. Both instruments (PANAS and DASS) are relatively brief, 10 vs 14 questions respectively. The depressive scale of DASS correlates fairly well (0.6) with the negative affect of PANAS. The 2017 paper makes no suggestion that a difference in measurements is explanatory... and they do cite the Sagioglou & Greitemeyer (2014) paper among the positive findings they attack. – Fizz Jun 26 '18 at 12:17
  • @Schmuddi: Putting "sadness" and "depression" in the same bin is doing the actual affliction of depression a severe disservice. A "sad" person can generally be "cheered up" using "the usual methods", while that is a very bad idea to try with someone in a depressive episode. – DevSolar Jun 26 '18 at 12:49

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