Every day, millions of people wake up and immediately check their Facebook to see what’s new, who’s doing what, and whether they’ve received any notifications that aren’t Candy Crush requests while they’ve been sleeping. And every day, millions of other people admonish social media users for spending too much time on the internet, caring too much about how many “likes” they get, and wasting away their lives while doing something unhealthy. Turns out, though, that using Facebook isn’t making your life worse; it could actually be helping you live longer!
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests that having a healthy social life online isn’t too dramatically different from having one off-line, as long as there’s a strong element of support and engagement. According to a press release about the study (via The New York Times), users who use Facebook “moderately” and receive friend requests appear to be at a lower risk for mortality. (Sending out friend request after friend request doesn’t seem to have any positive effect on how long you live, though, although it’d be interesting to know how getting banned from sending too many friend requests affects one’s chances of living to be 100).
The researchers studied over 12 million profiles of people born between 1945 and 1989 — but don’t worry, the study authors didn’t look at your profile directly; according to The NYT the profiles were “aggregated before they were analyzed to preserve privacy.”– and found that those with larger social networks online (even those that would be considered “average”) tended to live longer than people who had smaller ones. Of course, there’s no numeric threshold for how many friends you need to live longer (although it’d probably be best if you stopped sending out Candy Crush invites so that people would keep you on their list) but it seems enjoying an online social presence could help you enjoy a longer lifespan!
Of course, this study comes with the same caveats as any other study that suggests that something or other can/will change or better your life. First, more research needs to be done to make sure that the results here aren’t just correlational and can apply to other social networks; second, Facebook was involved in the study (it did not fund it), and while the authors claim that their results weren’t influenced in any way, it’s still a good idea to be a little skeptical.
Still, if nothing else, at least the study suggests that your friends online are real (even if they live thousands of miles away and are possibly catfishing you). Awesome!