The internet is good for you, finds Oxford study

The Oxford study found the effect of the internet on the world's population was overwhelmingly positive
The Oxford study found the effect of the internet on the world's population was overwhelmingly positive - oatawa/iStockphoto

The internet is actually good for you, a study by the University of Oxford has suggested.

Experts analysed more than 2.4 million people from 168 countries in the largest study of its kind and found the effect of the internet on the world’s population was overwhelmingly positive.

The researchers said the findings went against popular opinion that it had been a negative force in society.

While the research did not break down the type of internet use, such as social media, it found that people’s level of life satisfaction was 8.5 per cent higher among those who had regular internet access across all countries.

The research used more than 33,000 statistical models to ensure that it accounted for factors like deprivation, education and health.

It utilised survey results for people aged 15 to 99 across areas such as social, physical and community wellbeing, daily positive and negative experiences, and life satisfaction.

The researchers found that 85 per cent of the associations between the internet and wellbeing were positive, while 0.4 per cent were negative. The rest were neutral.

The group most likely to have unfavourable experiences were women aged 15-24, particularly in relation to their sense of community wellbeing, which suggests it was having a negative effect on how they felt about where they lived.

Professor Andrew Przybylski, human behaviour and technology expert at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, said: “It’s a bit cliché, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

“If we’re to make the online world safer for young people, we just can’t go in guns blazing with strong prior beliefs and one-size-fits-all solutions,” he said.

“We really need to make sure that we’re sensitive to having our minds changed by data, and I really hope that that message comes through instead of just another volley, in another silly debate.”

It comes after the media regulator last week announced proposals to name and shame social media sites who fail to comply with new rules due to come into force next year under the Online Safety Act – and ban under-18s from using them.

Prof Przybylski said his research suggests the perceived threat of the internet on children and young people was unfounded, and concerns around social media were likely to pass.

“The thing that we’re worried about [is how] the internet changes over time. Five years ago, maybe the main concern would have been screen time, World of Warcraft, Pokémon Go or something,” he said.

“Today, we’re talking about social media. But I guarantee you if and when we panic about generative AI, we’re going to think back to the good old days when we were worried about phones and social media that had real people at least on the other side of the screen.”

The poll assessed wellbeing with face-to-face and phone surveys, which included questions such as “does your home have access to the internet?”, and asked about positive or negative experiences and life satisfaction.

“We think this is the best work in the area, but it’s not the be-all and end-all,” he said. “Don’t go out and buy a phone because of this.”

The study was published in the journal Technology, Mind, and Behavior.