The Internet Is Good For You

Spending time online is often portrayed as something to avoid, but new international research suggests Internet use is associated with greater well-being in people around the world.

The research finds that links between Internet adoption and well-being are likely to be positive according to a major international study from researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), part of the University of Oxford.

The study analysed data from 2.4 million individuals’ psychological well-being from 2006-2021 across 168 countries, aged 15 to 99 years, in relation to Internet use and their psychological well-being

Across 33,792 different statistical models and subsets of data, 84.9% of associations between Internet connectivity and well-being were positive and statistically significant.In many parts of the world, including the EU and UK, concerns about online harms have prompted new laws. 

The OII says some of its findings are "consistent" with reported links between social media use and depressive symptoms amongst young women. But it concludes the overall benefits of being online show regulators contemplating tougher laws should rely on data and not be "guided by anecdote."

The study did not look specifically at social media, which is what much of the most heated debate around online safety is focussed on, but took a broader approach to assessing access to the Internet. Researchers analysed data gathered between 2006 and 2021 from almost two and a half million individuals aged 15 to 99 worldwide, including from countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. 

They found that people who had Internet access or actively used the Internet reported greater levels of life satisfaction and social wellbeing.  

The researchers studied eight indicators of well-being including life satisfaction, daily negative and positive experiences and community wellbeing.They looked at a "multiverse" of nearly 34,000 different statistical models and subsets of data. 

  • In 85% of cases these showed associations between Internet connectivity and wellbeing that were positive and statistically significant.
  • But around 5% of associations linking Internet use and community wellbeing were negative, with most of those observed amongst young women aged 15 to 24.

While this does not prove that Internet access causes them unhappiness, the paper notes that it is "consistent with previous reports of increased cyberbullying and more negative associations between social media use and depressive symptoms amongst young women".

The researchers do acknowledge the study has certain limits, including the inability to prove cause and effect - the authors of the study could not entirely discount the possibility that it increases incomes, which were also linked to rises in Internet access, were behind people feeling better.

Oxford Internet Inst.    |    Standard   |    Guardian   |    ITV   |   Yahoo   |    Independent   |  APA   |   BBC   | 

New Scientist   |    Gazette & Standard

Image: Andrea Piacquadio

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