Are Facebook friend requests really the key to living longer lives and staying away from illness? A new study suggests that may be the case for the former.
The New York Daily News cited a study published this week in the National Academy of Science, where researchers took a look at Facebook activity to check for correlations with mortality rates. And while the research doesn’t specifically say that using Facebook will keep you away from illness and prevent you from dying, the authors said that social media has some links in predicting a person’s health and mortality.
The study did point out one interesting thing about users of Facebook. Friend requests accepted may be associated with longer life, but having the most requests made doesn’t seem to have the same effect.
“We find that Facebook users who accept more friendships have a lower risk of mortality, but there is no relationship for those who initiate more friendships. Mortality risk is lowest for those with high levels of offline social interaction and moderate levels of online social interaction.”
In a newsletter published on his university’s website, Northeastern University professor and study co-author William Hobbs added that people who “moderately” use Facebook to interact with their friends have the best odds of remaining friends with them in the real world. He warned, however, that the figures weren’t too kind toward those with a lot of online friends whom they didn’t associate with offline.
“Most Facebook users engaged in moderate levels of online interactions. However, when numbers of online interactions were extreme, and when we didn’t see evidence of users being connected to people offline, we saw associations with worse health.”
Hobbs and co-author James Fowler of the University of California-San Diego analyzed data over six months from 12 million Facebook users from California in 2011, comparing them against state Department of Public Health records from 2012 to 2013 to see how many of these users had died in that timeframe. The users were all born between 1945 and 1989, and were both male and female, spanning several age groups. They had joined Facebook before October 2010, meaning they were no younger than 20 but no older than 65 at the time they signed up.
— Mark Dittmer (@markdittmer) November 6, 2016
A report from Inforum (c/o Reuters Health) cited more relevant statistics gleaned from the study, and based on one analysis involving a sampling of 89,597 non-users, Facebook users were 12 percent less likely to die than the non-users. Other analysis involved the researchers sticking solely to the platform’s users, and tracking activities such as accepting friend requests, liking status updates, and sharing photos.
All in all, “popular” users who accepted the most Facebook friend requests had a 34 percent lower chance of dying than those who accepted the least requests. As mentioned above, sending the most or least requests didn’t seem to matter in terms of projecting mortality rates. But on the other hand, there were some activities that had interesting impacts on the chances of users dying. Those who posted the most photos and the lowest number of status updates had a 30 percent lower chance of death than average users.
The researchers believe that real-life interactions are the best way to ensure a lower risk of death. Those with the lowest risk appeared to be those who were tagged in the most photos on Facebook, but used the service moderately, as opposed to frequently or infrequently. But co-author Fowler believes that the new study may have another take-home thought apart from the seeming benefit of Facebook friend requests. It might help arm researchers with the tools they need to determine whether a Facebook user has a higher risk of death due to heart disease, suicide, and other causes.
“These are really inexpensive interventions that can reach hundreds, thousands and possibly even millions of people,” said University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine professor Dr. Michael Thase, who was not involved in the study.
[Featured Image by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]