Facebook has a bearing on your real life as well, according to a recent study. People who receive many friend requests were far less likely to die over a two-year period that those who did not, say scientists who studied the mortality rates and Facebook activity of registered California voters. Apparently initiating friend requests does not have any effect on death.

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Does Facebook help you live longer?

Senior author James Fowler, who is a social scientist at UC San Diego, and his colleagues wondered if the online networks could be connected to health too. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

William Hobbs, the lead author and post-doctoral researcher at Northeastern University, said, “We’ve known for a long time, for decades now, that offline social networks, especially social integration, [were] related to longer life. But we didn’t know if that extended to online interactions too.”

There were also several researchers who wondered if social networks like Facebook were taking up energy and time that would otherwise be used in face-to-face social interactions. If that is the case and those offline social interactions are truly better for heath, then online social media platforms could actually be detracting from health, notes the Los Angeles Times.

The team of scientists took 12 million Facebook users and matched them to the voter registration database and California Department of Public Health vital records to try to find the answer to this question using a large reliable sample. The team of scientists checked how many users had died over two years of follow-up. All comparisons were made between people of about the same gender and same age, and all the users in the study were born between 1945 and 1989.

Is this study completely right?

Co-author Fowler told CBC News that there is a big debate about online social networking, and there are people who worry that it substitutes for healthy social interaction. However, there has never been a study in which they were able to extrapolate “gold standard data about health outcomes to a large number of people who are actually engaged in social media usage.”

The authors, however, accept that the study has weaknesses despite its wide scope. The study is just limited to a period of two years within the state of California. A longer-term study of even number of people could have provided different results. Fowler said it is an important “first step” to understanding the importance of online interactions.

“More and more of our social life, I think, is going to be conducted online.”