Facebook and Mortality: Interlude

On Sunday or Monday I will write Part Three, which discusses the last part of the Facebook study (“Online Social Integration is Associated with Reduced Mortality Risk“). Having examined the mortality rate of Facebook users (discussed in Part One) and the relative mortality risk of specific Facebook activities (discussed in Part Two), the authors now relate specific Facebook activities to specific causes of death.

I think there will be a Part Four as well; I want to look more closely at the Cox Proportional Hazard Model and a few other details.

For now, I will bring up a problem that has stayed on my mind. Does it make sense at all to compare the dead and the living in this case? We aren’t looking at a disease or harmful exposure. We’re looking at activities of dead Facebook users and living Facebook users. We don’t know how healthy the living Facebook users are; we don’t know whether any of them are at substantial risk for any of the deaths under consideration. It seems highly unlikely to me that Facebook activity (or lack thereof) contributed significantly to any of these deaths or non-deaths. A possible exception is suicide; some sort of contact with the outside world could keep a person from self-destruction, though it could also push someone over the edge. (Not all Facebook interaction is kind.)

Death is polymorphous; it seems to have the same end but has many causes and circumstances. In other mortality studies I’ve seen, there was a similar cause or circumstance. Here, with a stratified sample of living Facebook users and the full group of deceased Facebook users (in California over a two-year period), it seems we’re lacking essential information. The problem is not necessarily with the case control study approach but with the nature of the comparison; the dead and the living may or may not have mortality risks in common.

Another big problem: There’s no way to know, from these data and this study, to what extent any of the effects (real or not) are Facebook-specific. Any Facebook activity might be combined with or influenced by other online activity. The authors do consider a possible relation between Facebook activity and offline activity, but not between Facebook and other online activities.

I will think and write more on this later.

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  1. Facebook and Mortality: A Look at the First Figure | Take Away the Takeaway
  2. Facebook and Mortality: Final Post | Take Away the Takeaway

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    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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