Does social media make young people unhappy?

My notes on Orben, A. & Dienlin, T. & Przybylski, A.K. (2019). Social media’s enduring effect on adolescent life satisfaction. Proceedings of the National academy of Sciences

Does social media make young people unhappy? This is the question which this paper by Amy Orbena, Tobias Dienlinc and Andrew K. Przybylskia addresses using the Understanding Society (the UK Household Longitudinal Study) data from 2009–2016. They caution that most responses to this question have been synchronic, comparing different people at the same point in time in order to draw conclusions about something that necessarily relates to the person over time. They offer their study against a background where “trivial trends are routinely overinterpreted by those under increasing pressure to rapidly craft evidence-based policies” (1).

The longitudinal data concerning 10- to 15-y olds (n=12,672) means that within person questions can be asked of the data. They produced a range of models working with different subgroups, exploring the statistical relationship between self-reported hours spent using social media (“on a normal school day”) and different areas of reported life satisfaction (Friends, Appearance, School, Work, Life, Family, Mean). For male adolescents social media predicted “tenuous” (does this mean extremely small…?) decreases in satisfaction with life and mean satisfaction. For female adolescents it was “a predictor of slightly de- creased life satisfaction across all domains, except satisfaction with appearance” (3). Most of the effects they found are trivial and were not statistically significant in over half of the models. They recognise the limitations of self report data but in the absence of social media firms “sharing granular user engagement data and participating in large-scale team-based open science” (2) the best datasets we have are similarly reliant upon self report.

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