Facebook Friends May Save Your Life

Facebook Friends Reduce MortalityFacebook friends may help you live longer. This is the surprising result of a recent study that received a lot of attention, and which some of you may have thought was a marketing ploy. However, the study was published in the prestigious journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Here is a summary of the study and the findings from the abstract…

“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. “

The meaning of the first result is a bit unclear. The authors found that initiating friendship requests with others was not associated with reduced mortality. However, having others approach you to be Facebook friends and accepting those requests was associated with a significant reduction in all cause mortality. This showed up as reductions in death from causes as varied as infections, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease and homicide.

But did this really mean that being on Facebook was helpful or did it reflect the fact that people who accept more friendship requests have more requests for friendship from others. In other words did it just show that people who were more popular lived longer, presumably whether they were on Facebook or not.

The second set of findings was a little bit more suggestive of a benefit from certain kinds of Facebook activities. Posting photos with helpful and the more photos you posted the better. But posting messages was not necessarily helpful. Those who posted no messages had higher mortality than those who posted a moderate number of messages, but those who seem to spend all their time online posting messages also had a higher mortality than those who posted a moderate number of messages.

Which raises the question of whether posting on a photo-based site such as Instagram would be even more strongly associated with health…


William R. HobbsMoira BurkeNicholas A. Christakisand James H. Fowler. Online social integration is associated with reduced mortality risk. PNAS 2016 113 (46) 1298012984; published ahead of print October 31, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1605554113

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