People who have stronger social networks live longer. However, can we say the same about online social networks? Here, we conduct such a study. Using public California vital records, we compare 12 million Facebook users to nonusers. More importantly, we also look within Facebook users to explore how online social interactions—reflecting both online and offline social activity—are associated with longevity. We find that Facebook users who accept more friendships have a lower risk of mortality, but there is no relationship for those who initiate more friendships. Mortality risk is lowest for those with high levels of offline social interaction and moderate levels of online social interaction.Abstract
Social interactions increasingly take place online. Friendships and other offline social ties have been repeatedly associated with human longevity, but online interactions might have different properties. Here, we reference 12 million social media profiles against California Department of Public Health vital records and use longitudinal statistical models to assess whether social media use is associated with longer life. The results show that receiving requests to connect as friends online is associated with reduced mortality but initiating friendships is not. Additionally, online behaviors that indicate face-to-face social activity (like posting photos) are associated with reduced mortality, but online-only behaviors (like sending messages) have a nonlinear relationship, where moderate use is associated with the lowest mortality. These results suggest that online social integration is linked to lower risk for a wide variety of critical health problems. Although this is an associational study, it may be an important step in understanding how, on a global scale, online social networks might be adapted to improve modern populations’ social and physical health.