Accepting Facebook Friend Requests Is Good for You, Study Says

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You know all those Facebook friend requests you’ve left languishing in limbo? It’s time to accept, says a new study.

The study, led by a Northeastern, Harvard, and University of California, San Diego, researcher, says certain Facebook behaviors may contribute to a longer life. The results suggest that, just as in-person social interaction has been shown to improve health, so may social media relationships.

The team found that having a large Facebook network is associated with good health, consistent with past studies that have examined the relationship between social connectivity and health outcomes. Interestingly, though, accepting friend requests seems to have a stronger impact on longevity than sending them. Those with the most accepted requests had mortality risks 66 percent the size of those with the fewest accepted requests; initiating requests, on the other hand, didn’t have as clear-cut an effect.

The results “suggest that what matters is not the tendency to seek out friends—it is the willingness of others to seek out and establish these friendships,” the researchers write in the paper.

The findings, based on the profiles of millions of California Facebook users and state public health data, are not to say, however, that online-only friendships are better than IRL pals—in fact, it’s the opposite.

Facebook activity related to offline social interaction, such as posting pictures, was linked to lower mortality risk, while online-only activity, such as posting lots of statuses, had the reverse effect. The researchers also looked at message-sending habits, and found that both extremely infrequent and extremely frequent messaging are associated with higher mortality rates, suggesting that people interacting outside social media are best off. “These results are suggestive that offline social activities—and not online activities—are driving the relationship between overall Facebook activity and decreased mortality risk,” the paper reads.

All of the above results are observational—and they highlight correlation, not causation—so don’t freak out if your profile doesn’t fit the bill. The researchers also note that there may be inherent limitations to the study, since it analyzed only California users, and since social media changes all the time.

Nonetheless, next time somebody sends you a friend request, it may behoove you to say yes—even if it’s that long-lost college acquaintance or crazy Uncle Sal.

Source URL: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/health/2016/11/07/social-media-health/