Good News: Facebook Users Live Longer!

Live long and Facebook on.

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Between hilariously on-point GIFS and charming cat videos to informative news stories and long-winded status rants from friends, harboring an addiction to Facebook has become universal. As our social lives have slowly melded into social media sites over the past few decades, there has been much concern over the potentially negative ways that social technology is warping our increasingly globalized world.

Fortunately for all you Facebook enthusiasts, science has just emerged with one compelling perk among all that negative buzzhaving a Facebook page could actually help you live longer. According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the average Facebook user is about 12 percent less likely to die than someone who doesn’t use the site.

In the experiment, researchers analyzed 12 million social media profiles and compared them with data from the California Department of Public Health. To preserve privacy, after being automatically matched on name and birthdate, the data was de-identified and aggregated.

The candidates were all born between 1945 and 1989, and their online activity was monitored over a period of six months. Among people who did use Facebook, the researchers factored the number of friends, quantity of photos and status updates, and frequency of wall posts and messages to determine whether people who were more active lived longer. The researchers then compared the activity of those still living with those who had died. Careful consideration was heeded to only make comparisons between people of similar age and gender.

Their findings showed that people with average or large social networks (in the top 50 to 30 percent) tend to live longer than those in the lowest 10 percent. Aligning with prior studies that people with stronger social lifestyles live longer lives, the paper further enhances the theory by indicating that the health effects of active online social ties emulate the benefits of face-to-face interaction. (These are 50 other habits that help you live longer, according to science).

“We find that people with more friends online are less likely to die than their disconnected counterparts,” the paper says. “This evidence contradicts assertions that social media have had a net-negative impact on health.”

The study was headed by William Hobbs, a postdoctoral fellow at Northeastern University who had worked at Facebook as a research intern in 2013, and Professor of UC San Diego James Fowler. Moira Burke, another contributor, worked on it in her capacity as a research scientist at Facebook. The paper’s methods were approved by three university and state review boards. For skeptics who suspect Facebook is behind the theory, Hobbs confirms that the mogul site did not interfere with the results of the paper in any way (although we can assume their executives and stockholders are very pleased).

This doesn’t mean you should bid sayonara to all your friends and take to your news feed instead. Here’s the catch: this link between Facebook activity and life longevity is only applicable when Facebook is used to maintain and improve real-life social connections, according to the authors. “Interacting online seems to be healthy when the online activity is moderate and complements interactions offline,” says Hobbs. “It is only on the extreme end, spending a lot of time online with little evidence of being connected to people otherwise, that we see a negative association.”

Don’t get too daunted by your outreach popularity either; the number of Facebook likes were shown not to have any influence whatsoever on the the mortality rate. Interestingly, they did find that Facebook users who accepted the most friend requests lived the longest. (In case you’re wondering, this is how to see who unfollowed you on Facebook). In other words, it’s not actually the quota of likes, shares, or comments that matter in the long run, but the social sentiment behind them.

“The association between longevity and social networks was identified by Lisa Berkman in 1979 and has been replicated hundreds of times since,” says Fowler. “Social relationships seem to be as predictive of lifespan as smoking, and more predictive than obesity and physical inactivity. We’re adding to that conversation by showing that online relationships are associated with longevity, too.”

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Hana Hong
Hana Hong is a journalist/storyteller who writes for Reader's Digest, InStyle, CollegeFashionista, Her Campus, and The Fashion Network, among other publications. She hails from the midwest, where she graduated from the University of Illinois with a BA in News-Editorial Journalism, but has a passion for the East Coast.