People who are well liked on Facebook may also be healthier, according to a study that linked people’s activity on the social network to their lifespans. This could be another blow against the increasingly unstable position that digital media is inherently dangerous.
The study looked at the association between the Facebook use of 12 million people between the ages of 27 and 71 and their longevity, using records from the California Department of Public Health. Led by William Hobbs — who at the time was a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego — the researchers found that Facebook activity that indicated a rich offline social life tracked with improved longevity. They published their results yesterday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Specifically, they found that people who received a lot of friend requests tended to live longer, but there was little association between longevity and sending friend requests. Posting photos was also linked with reduced mortality in the study. And moderate levels of online-only behavior like sending messages also appears to track with a longer life. The study supports previous research that associated a robust, real-world social network with improved health.
The study, however, covered just one state and one social network. And it looked at correlation, not causation. “We cannot say that spurring users to post more photos on Facebook will increase user longevity,” the authors write in the paper. In fact, it’s just as likely that the association goes the reverse direction: these findings could mean that healthier people have the energy and time for richer offline social lives that bleed into their online lives.
What’s more, two of the authors have ties to Facebook, The New York Times points out. Lead author William Hobbs, now a postdoctoral fellow at Northeastern University, interned for the company in 2013. And Moira Burke, the second author of the study, is a Facebook research scientist.
But Hobbs told the Times, “We had some things in writing that they couldn’t interfere with the publication of the research no matter what the result was.”