This news might be everywhere, but the research behind it is limited
Over the past few days many websites have been reporting news that social networking websites, such as Twitter and Facebook, can cause anxiety. It's been reported by blogs such as Mashable, newspapers such as the Metro, and magazines such as T3. So, should we all be cutting down the amount of time we spend on these websites?
The answer is fairly obvious: if you feel that any website at all is having a negative impact on your state of mind, then yes, close it down. But whether or not there's any strong evidence to suggest that this is a common problem is another matter entirely.
Many of the news items mention a study from the University of Salford, conducted on behalf of the charity Anxiety UK, so we tried to get hold of a copy. It's not published online, though, and the charity told us that the results "were provided exclusively to the Telegraph". And it's that article in the Telegraph, here and pictured, that seems to be the source of just about every other report on the subject, from London to India and back again.
"Facebook and Twitter feed anxiety, study finds", warns the Telegraph's headline, but the article itself notes that of those questioned in the study only 53% said that social networking sites had changed their behaviour, and of those "51 per cent said the impact had been negative".
So roughly half of half of those surveyed said that social networks were a negative effect - while roughly 75% must have felt either no effect, or a positive one. But more interesting is the matter of who was surveyed.
The Telegraph reports that 'In total, 298 people were polled by Salford Business School at the University of Salford, for the charity Anxiety UK'. With a University involved you might assume that this was a survey run carefully so as to ensure a representative sample of people from across the UK, but in fact it appears to be an online survey that remains open for anyone to answer.
The charity also ran a second survey, promoted on a website for sufferers, but this was set up entirely to collect negative experiences. "We are very interested in how social media ... have NEGATIVELY affected people's behaviour", it notes, but it seems that only sixteen people answered.
This survey of just sixteen people, however, led to the Telegraph's reporting that "Most commonly, those who suffered a negative impact from social media said their confidence fell after comparing their own achievements to those of friends online".
Twelve people, who being members of the group were likely to have previous experience of anxiety, had chosen that answer.
We're certain that Anxiety UK does excellent work, and we hope that this burst of news interest will help it raise some funds - should you suffer from anxiety, or wish to make a donation, you'll find its website here. If the actual research proves anything, though, that would appear to be that scare stories about social networks make for tempting news (see also the Facebook Causes Divorce zombie), no matter what the basis, and that churnalism is alive and well.
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