Should You Take a Break From Facebook?

A new study explores the pros and cons of the "social media vacation" trend.

Posted Jun 20, 2019

antonynjoro/Pixabay
Source: antonynjoro/Pixabay

It is no secret that social media can be intrusive, disruptive, and habit-forming. So taking a break from Facebook, Instagram, and other popular social websites should be a good thing, right?

Not so fast, new research tells us. According to a recent paper published in the journal PloS ONE, the extent to which a "social media vacation" can benefit one's mental health depends on the way a person interacts with social media. Different social media user "types" respond differently to social media hiatuses.

To come to this conclusion, researchers at the University of New England in Australia designed an experiment to test how a social media vacation would impact people's mood and well-being. The researchers recruited 78 people to participate in a two-part study. In the first part, participants were asked to use social media as they normally would for a span of one week. During that time, researchers tracked participants' social media use via RescueTime, an application that monitors logins and time spent on social websites. At the end of the week, participants were asked to complete a survey that measured positive and negative emotions and life satisfaction.

Additionally, participants were asked to describe how they tend to use social media. The researchers used these descriptions to divide people into two user types: active users (e.g., people who tend to make new friends, write status updates, create invitations, and comment on people's posts) and passive users (people who primarily scroll through their newsfeed, view other people's posts and status updates, and look at other people's photos).

In phase two of the study, the researchers randomly assigned half of the participants to complete a week-long social media break. The other half (the control condition) was allowed to continue using social media websites. At the end of the week, researchers again measured participants' emotional states and life satisfaction.

Here's what they found. First, phase one of the study revealed that the participants in this sample spent approximately 64 minutes per day on social media sites. Furthermore, the amount of time participants spent on social media during phase one was not associated with their emotional state or well-being. 

Of specific interest to the researchers was whether participants' emotional states or life satisfaction would be influenced by the social media vacation and whether this relationship would depend on one's social media user "type." Contrary to expectations, they found that taking a week-long break from social media services negatively impacted active users' emotional state. This suggests that actively using social media may be associated with the "formation and maintenance of social capital, which relates to positive consequences of increased self-esteem and subjective well-being." For passive users, the social media vacation had no effect on participants' emotional state.

The researchers write:

"[The] result is contrary to much popular expectation, and indicates that social networking site usage can be beneficial for active users. We suggest that users might be educated on the benefits of active usage, and on ways to improve their positive experience on social networking sites."

References

Hanley, S. M., Watt, S. E., & Coventry, W. (2019). Taking a break: The effect of taking a vacation from Facebook and Instagram on subjective well-being. PloS one, 14(6), e0217743.