Facebook just released a report titled, "Hard Questions: Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us?" and the answer is definite "Yes," depending on exactly how you consume it. According to the report, written by Facebook researchers David Ginsberg and Moira Burke, passive consumption of social media -- including Facebook -- can have negative results:
"In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information -- reading but not interacting with people -- they report feeling worse afterward. In one experiment, University of Michigan students randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on Facebook."
The Facebook researchers also cite a Yale/UC San Diego study that revealed that people who clicked on approximately four times as many links as the average person, or who liked twice as many post, reported having worse mental health than average. At least part of the problem is believed to be that passive consumption of social media takes the place of real, in-person interactions that we all need to thrive.
While passive consumption of social media was found to be bad in the Facebook report, the authors report that actively interacting with people via social media has positive benefits. According to Ginsberg and Burke,
"On the other hand, actively interacting with people -- especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions -- is linked to improvements in well-being."
More specifically, a Carnegie Mellon University study found that people who sent or received more messages, comments, and Timeline posts reported improvements in social support, depression, and loneliness. This positive impact was amplified when online conversations were with close friends.
The Facebook researchers are using these and other findings to try to improve the social media experience of Facebook users. As they say in the report, "We're working to make Facebook more about social interaction and less about spending time."
Clearly, with more than 2 billion active Facebook users worldwide, anything that can make using Facebook a positive experience and not a negative one is a big step in the right direction.