Surprise: it’s worth taking a break from social media

If the last few days haven’t already convinced you that social media can have a detrimental effect on people’s mental health, perhaps some research will. Evolutionary biologist Rob Brooks, in an effort to convince his kids that social isn’t all that, has been digging into the evidence.

First, research from psychologist Jean M. Twenge on what she dubbed “the iGen“ – people born in or after 1995:1

According to Twenge’s exhaustive analyses of the data, the time that they spend on social media has caused big spikes in iGen anxiety, depression, and suicide. The individual youngsters who spend the most time on social media and text-based interaction experience the greatest risk.

The news is not all bad. iGen don’t drink as much, they don’t have as much risky sex, and they don’t take risks with drugs and dangerous driving as much as the preceding generations. As Twenge put it in The Atlantic, today’s teens present more danger to themselves than to one another.

But, of course, it’s not all about young people. They may receive an overwhelming amount of attention when people talk about trends online, but they’re not the only ones affected by it. Especially when it comes to politics.

Here’s Stotts, describing a study from four economists who had people quit Facebook for a month:

Americans get more of their news through Facebook than any other source, a fact blamed for the intense polarisation of the American polity. Study participants who quit Facebook knew less about what was going on in the news, attended less to politics, and were less politically polarized than the control group who kept their Facebook accounts active.

The people who quit Facebook were happier, more satisfied, less anxious, and less depressed after the study.

But that mightn’t be the most interesting takeaway from their study. The researchers also found out how much they’d have to pay people to stay off Facebook for a month. Turns out, for the people who applied to take part in the research, it was $102.

Makes me wonder how much people would pay to access Facebook, if it came without everything that makes it a nightmare engine. Some have suggested that “Facebook makes about $2.40 profit per user per year from selling targeted ads.“ If it takes $100 to keep people off the platform for a month, chances are FB could make more than $3 a year to keep people on it.

It probably wouldn’t scale, of course, otherwise they would’ve already done offered that kind of deal.2 But it’s an interesting thought.

Anyway. The point is take social media tends to make people’s lives worse in some ways. Surprise.


  1. We’ll never stop with naff generational markers, will we? 

  2. Unless, of course, charging for access to Facebook would open them up to more responsibility for what people share and endure?