Orben et al.
(open source article) provide a study whose results contest a common opinion, reinforced by several previous studies, that adolescents who use social media extensively are more likely to be depressed and have low self esteem. They used...
...large-scale representative panel data to disentangle the between-person and within-person relations linking adolescent social media use and well-being. We found that social media use is not, in and of itself, a strong predictor of life satisfaction across the adolescent population. Instead, social media effects are nuanced, small at best, reciprocal over time, gender specific, and contingent on analytic methods.
They note limitations of current published research:
Focused on cross-sectional relations, scientists have few means of parsing longitudinal effects from artifacts introduced by common statistical modeling methodologies. Furthermore, the volume of data under analysis, paired with unchecked analytical flexibility, enables selective research reporting, biasing the literature toward statistically significant effects. Nevertheless, trivial trends are routinely overinterpreted by those under increasing pressure to rapidly craft evidence-based policies.
The UK study examined data on 12,672 10-15 year old. Two summary graphics are provided. One clip:
...the importance of gender was apparent: Only 16% of significant models arose from male data.
The last two paragraphs:
The relations linking social media use and life satisfaction are, therefore, more nuanced than previously assumed: They are inconsistent, possibly contingent on gender, and vary substantively depending on how the data are analyzed. Most effects are tiny—arguably trivial; where best statistical practices are followed, they are not statistically significant in more than half of models. That understood, some effects are worthy of further exploration and replication: There might be small reciprocal within-person effects in females, with increases in life satisfaction predicting slightly lower social media use, and increases in social media use predicting tenuous decreases in life satisfaction.
With the unknowns of social media effects still substantially outnumbering the knowns, it is critical that independent scientists, policymakers, and industry researchers cooperate more closely. Scientists must embrace circumspection, transparency, and robust ways of working that safeguard against bias and analytical flexibility. Doing so will provide parents and policymakers with the reliable insights they need on a topic most often characterized by unfounded media hype. Finally, and most importantly, social media companies must support independent research by sharing granular user engagement data and participating in large-scale team-based open science. Only then will we truly unravel the complex constellations of effects shaping young people in the digital age.
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