Digital Wellbeing

Four things that happen when you turn Facebook off for a month

A new large-scale randomised controlled trial (RCT) has been run to assess the effects of taking a four-week break from Facebook.

RCTs are typically used in clinical trials to assess the efficacy and safety of drugs and therapy.

For Facebook, which has been accused of having drug-like effects on users (addiction, dependency, psychological side-effects), an RCT may seem appropriate, as well as represent the gold standard in scientific research.

This RCT (download link) was conducted by Stanford University researchers in late 2018, with 2,844 Facebook users. Half were randomised into a treatment group (taking a four-week break from Facebook), and a non-treatment control group who continued to use Facebook as normal.

Taking a four-week break from Facebook had the following results

  1. You feel happier. Taking a Facebook break improved people’s subjective sense of wellbeing. They felt happier and more satisfied (and less bored) with their life, whilst less anxious or depressed. Overall, the effect of taking a Facebook break on subjective wellbeing was 25-40% as strong as established positive psychology interventions offered by therapists and coaches.
  2. You get an hour back, every day. Taking a Facebook break freed up an hour of time per day. Interestingly, participants chose not to replace their extra hour with other online time. In fact, they reduced other online time. Instead, they spent more time offline, with friends, family – or TV.
  3. Your views become less polarised. Taking a Facebook break reduced extreme views on issues, and increased understanding of alternative views. However, a Facebook break also reduced attention to news and knowledge of current affairs, indicating that Facebook has become a key news channel for Facebook users.
  4. You value Facebook less. Consistent with standard models of addiction, taking a Facebook break reduced demand for Facebook after the experiment, resulting in a persistent reduction in Facebook use.

The full study can be downloaded here.

Allcott, H., Braghieri, L., Eichmeyer, S., & Gentzkow, M. (2019). The Welfare Effects of Social Media (No. w25514). National Bureau of Economic Research.

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