Research published today (19th February 2009) suggests that people run an increased risk of cancer if they use social networking sites such as Facebook. However, according to Internet Psychologist Graham Jones, the study is flawed and contains some basic errors of logic.
“This study puts two sets of data together and then makes jumps in logic to come to the conclusion that using Facebook could harm our immune systems and make us more likely to have cancer,” said Graham Jones, “but it simply isn’t true.”
The research is published by the Institute of Biology and suggests that the human immune system needs social contact for it to be efficient. That much is accepted widely. However, the research paper then goes on to conclude that because we have had less face-to-face contact over the past 20 years we run the risk of having cancer and other health issues if we all use social networking sites.
“This is a classic case of using data to prove a theory, but for which the theory is based on poor information,” said Graham Jones. He added: “The theory is based on the notion that people who use social networking web sites spend less time in face to face contact with other people. However, the reverse is true.”
According to Mr Jones, those who are most actively engaged in social networking sites are also the most active in “offline” social activities. “Think about it,” he said, “social networking sites only attract sociable people. They don’t attract sad loners who don’t wish to be in touch with others.”
Many Facebook users actually use the social networking site to arrange meetings, parties and other face-to-face encounters, said Mr Jones. “The notion that people who use social networking sites have less social contact is simply plain wrong,” he said.
As a result, the research could actually be proving the reverse of what the study concludes. Rather than showing that Facebook and other social networking sites could decrease your health, it could be leading to the conclusion that they improve your health. That’s because social networking users tend to have more face-to-face contact, thus boosting their immune system.
Furthermore, other studies show that social networking use can improve your outlook on life, making you more positive and less anxious. This is known to also boost your immune system and make it easier for your body to deal with any ill health you do suffer. Consequently social networking could have a double impact on positive health, says Mr Jones.