Are You an Unhappy Lurker? Time to Ditch Facebook

As the time for New Year resolutions has arrived yet again, factoring prominently on many lists is “spend less time on Facebook.” According to new research out of Denmark, this may well turn out to be a good idea.

A study by the University of Copenhagen suggests that taking a break from the popular social network can boost emotional wellbeing, with the effects especially pronounced among passive users who “lurk” on Facebook without actively engaging with others.

The research showed that the effects of quitting for a week were also notable among heavy users and those who envied their Facebook “friends,” which suggested that people who dwell enviously over other users’ posts may benefit the most from time offline.

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Morten Tromholt, from the Danish university’s sociology department, and the author of the report, said the findings suggested that changes in behaviour – for example “lurkers” actively engaging, or heavy users reducing their time spent on Facebook– could yield positive results.

Tromholt nevertheless indicated that changing behaviour could be difficult, with 13 percent of the study’s participants who were supposed to be taking time out admitting to continuing use of the social network. In such cases it was thought that quitting may be necessary.

The study, which was published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, involved 1,095 participants, 86 percent of whom were women.

They were randomly assigned to two groups: one that stopped using the social network for a week, and one that continued using Facebook as usual.

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On average, the participants had 350 Facebook friends, were aged 34, and spent just over an hour each day on the social network.

Questionnaires conducted at the beginning and end of the week indicated that taking a break from the site increased positive emotions and life satisfaction.

The effects of quitting were found to be greater among heavy users, passive users and those who envied others on the social network.

According to Brenda Wiederhold, editor-in-chief of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking: “This study found that ‘lurking’ on Facebook may cause negative emotions. However, on the bright side … previous studies have shown actively connecting with close friends, whether in real life or on Facebook, may actually increase one’s sense of wellbeing.”

Tromholt suggested that future studies should investigate the effect of quitting Facebook for a greater length of time and look at other social networks.

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