unadulterated faff

Research on the benefits of quitting Facebook

I was just reading an article from Boing Boing that was linked on HN. The first link in the article, purportedly the research that was the source of the claims, actually just points to a Bloomberg article, so I decided to track down the research. You can see it here.

Some of the interesting points from the paper:

  1. Deactivation reduced political polarization:
    • “The Treatment group was less likely to say they follow news about politics or the President, and less able to correctly answer factual questions about recent news events. Our overall index of news knowledge fell by 0.19 standard deviations. There is no detectable effect on political engagement, as measured by voter turnout in the midterm election and the likelihood of clicking on email links to support political causes.”
    • “Deactivation significantly reduced polarization of views on policy issues and a measure of exposure to polarizing news. Deactivation did not statistically significantly reduce affective polarization (i.e. negative feelings about the other political party) or polarization in factual beliefs about current events, although the coefficient estimates also point in that direction. Our overall index of political polarization fell by 0.16 standard deviations. As a point of comparison, prior work has found that a different index of political polarization rose by 0.38 standard deviations between 1996 and 2018 (Boxell 2018).”
  2. Deactivation increased “well-being”, by about 20-40% the amount you’d expect for someone getting therapy:
    • “Deactivation caused small but significant improvements in well-being, and in particular in self-reported happiness, life satisfaction, depression, and anxiety. Effects on subjective well-being as measured by responses to brief daily text messages are positive but not significant. Our overall index of subjective well-being improved by 0.09 standard deviations. As a point of comparison, this is about 25-40 percent of the effect of psychological interventions including self-help therapy, group training, and individual therapy, as reported in a meta-analysis by Bolier et al. (2013). These results are consistent with prior studies.”
  3. After the experiment ended, people in the treatment group didn’t feel like they needed to go back:
    • “As the experiment ended, participants reported planning to use Facebook much less in the future.”
    • “About 80 percent of the Treatment group agreed that the deactivation was good for them.”

The research didn’t do much to adjust my priors, but it’s good to see them actually borne out.