There is no 'smoking gun' linking social media use to mental health harm, a study using data from over 2 million people found

Social Media apps
Social media apps are displayed on a smartphone. Matt Cardy/Getty Images
  • A new study by the Oxford Internet Institute found little evidence that Internet use harms mental health.

  • The study analyzed whether there's a link between internet adoption and mental well-being.

  • Researchers noted that tech firms need to disclose the data they have for more thorough research.

The idea that using the internet including using social media apps and smartphones can harm mental health has been disputed by a new global study published by the Oxford Internet Institute on Tuesday.

The study titled "Global Well-Being and Mental Health in the Internet Age," was carried out by Andrew Przybylski, a professor of human behavior and technology at OII, and Matti Vuorre, a research associate at OII to analyze whether internet usage was linked to changes in people's mental wellbeing.

In the study, Przybylski and Vuorre examined data from 2.4 million people between the ages of 15 and 89 in 168 countries regarding their psychological well-being between 2005 and 2022. Still, they found there was little evidence to show that increased internet usage was associated with negative mental health impacts.

Although negative and positive experiences across countries had increased on average during that time.

Przybylski said in the press release: "We looked very hard for a 'smoking gun' linking technology and well-being and we didn't find it."

The researchers also analyzed data on rates of mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and self-harm in 200 countries from 2000 to 2019 compared to the rate of internet adoption during that period.

"Our results do not provide evidence supporting the view that the Internet and technologies enabled by it, such as smartphones with Internet access, are actively promoting or harming either well-being or mental health globally," the researchers said in the study.

Przybylski added in the release: "We meticulously tested whether there is anything special in terms of age or gender, but there is no evidence to support popular ideas that certain groups are more at risk."

They mentioned in the study that big tech firms need to be more transparent about the data they've collected to do a more thorough investigation.

"Research on the effects of Internet technologies is stalled because the data most urgently needed are collected and held behind closed doors by technology companies and online platforms. It is crucial to study, in more detail and with more transparency from all stakeholders, data on individual adoption of and engagement with Internet-based technologies."

Despite these findings, social media firms have come under fire in recent years for contributing to young people's mental health problems.

"32% of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse," a Facebook internal document said, according to the Wall Street Journal in 2021. "Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves."

A Facebook internal presentation from 2019, viewed by WSJ, also said: "We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls."

In October, 33 US states, including California and New York, sued Meta over claims its platforms are harming young people's mental health and that they company designed features that kept them hooked on its platforms.

Read the original article on Business Insider