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The Impact of Facebook on Social Comparison and Happiness: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

The ubiquity of Facebook in modern life compels us to study its effects on well-being. We study a unique sample of users and non-users in a security-related organization, where Facebook usage was manipulated by an organizational policy change, initially banning Facebook altogether and later differentially restricting its usage. Thus, the assignment to the group of non-users was circumstantial rather than due to a-priori personal characteristics, which makes it possible to identify Facebook's impact on social comparison and happiness.

 

We find that Facebook usage increases users' engagement in social comparison and consequently decreases their happiness. Social comparison mediates the effect of Facebook on happiness, but only for the younger half of our sample and only for those who believe that others have many more positive experiences than they do. Surprisingly, we find that Facebook does not cause users to overestimate the frequency of their friends' positive experiences.

 

Arad, Ayala and Barzilay, Ohad and Perchick, Maayan, The Impact of Facebook on Social Comparison and Happiness: Evidence from a Natural Experiment (February 13, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2916158

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