Despite all its merits in keeping people connected, Facebook has been suspected of leading to unfortunate side effects, such as jealousy, low self-esteem or divorce. But new research out of the University of Wisconsin suggests people should think twice before tacking depression onto that list.
"People have looked at things like jealousy, and more transient moods or whatnot, but we really looked at clinical depression," Lauren Jelenchick, the lead author of the study, told The Huffington Post. "There was no relation between the amount of time [study participants] were on Facebook and their symptoms of depression."
The study, which was published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health, attempted to establish whether there was a relationship between social networking use and symptoms of depression.
In order to accomplish this, Jelenchick and her team kept frequent tabs on 190 students aged 18 to 23. The researchers texted the students six times per day for one week to inquire as to how much they were using the Internet, and how that time was being spent.
"We were using real time data collection, rather than them having to think back retrospectively," Jelenchick said.
Participants were broken into three groups: high use, average use and low use, with high use constituting two hours or more spent on social networking sites. The students later completed survey designed to screen for symptoms of clinical depression.
"What we found is that, as might be expected, there was quite a bit of Facebook or other social networking site use. It was the most common thing they were doing online," Jelenchick said.
And what they didn't find?
"Any difference in those three groups in how likely they were to be depressed, or how depressed they were," she said.
The new research challenges various studies that associate Facebook with a host of negative emotional effects.
Earlier this month, for example, Australian researchers found a correlation between Internet and social media use and negative self-image in adolescent girls.
In addition, a 2011 clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics looking at the impact of social media on adolescents suggested Facebook could cause mental health issues, including depression.
The report received significant media attention, and not all of it was positive.
HuffPost blogger Larry Magid called the condition of Facebook depression "made up." While John M. Grohol with Pysch Central argued that the report failed to take into account important nuances in the research it cited.
As an example, Grohol pointed out that one study which found a relationship between Facebook use and depression didn't mention that the link was found only among teens with low quality friendships. Those with high quality friendships were not affected by increased time spent on Facebook, according to that study.
Jelenchick said the undertaking of the University of Wisconsin study was in part the result of skepticism surrounding claims made in the Academy's report. She said didn't believe there was enough research to support a causal relationship between Facebook and symptoms of depression.
Going forward, she argues that researchers may need to look more at how people use Facebook -- instead of how much.
Constantly checking to see how many times friends have "liked" a status and feeling better or worse as a result may not fall into same category of "use" as messaging with friends or commenting on photos, for example.
"I'm not arguing there's no effect on mood," she said. On the other hand, "If you have a teen and they're spending a lot of time on Facebook but their grades are fine and they're involved in school and they have a good group of friends ... that's not necessarily a bad thing."