This is the crunch question that has probably attracted the most newspaper column inches (and books). A 2012 Facebook took an experimental approach. One group were asked to post more updates than usual for one week – this led them to feel less lonely and more connected to their friends.
Similarly, a survey of over a thousand FB users found links between use of the network and greater feelings of belonging and confidence in keeping up with friends, especially for people with low self-esteem.
Another study from 2010 found that shy students who use FB feel closer to their friends (on FB) and have a greater sense of social support. A similar story is told by a 2013 paper that said feelings of FB connectedness were associated “with lower depression and anxiety and greater satisfaction with life” and Facebook “may act as a separate social media …. with a range of positive psychological outcomes”. This recent report also suggested the site can help revive old relationships.
There has already been also evidence for the negative influence of FB. A 2013 study texted people through the day, to see how they felt before and after using FB. “most of the people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time, the researchers said.
Other findings are more nuanced. This study from 2010 (not specifically focused on FB) found that using the internet to connect with existing friends was associated with less loneliness, but using it to connect with strangers (people only known by virtual relationships) was associated with more loneliness. This survey of adults with autism found that greater use of online social networking (including FB) was associated with having more close friendships, but only offline relationships were linked with feeling less lonely.
Facebook could also be fuelling envy. In 2012 researchers found that people who’d spent more time on FB felt that other people were happier, and that life was less fair. Similarly, a study of hundreds of undergrads found that more time on FB went hand in hand with more feelings of jealousy. And a paper from last year concluded that “people feel depressed after spending a great deal of time on Facebook because they feel badly when comparing themselves to others.” However, this new report (on general online social networking, not just FB) found that heavy users are not more stressed than average, but are more aware of other people ‘stress.