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Live long and … Facebook?

Is social media good for you, or bad? Well, it’s complicated. A study of 12 million Facebook users suggests that using Facebook is associated with living longer — when it serves to maintain and enhance your real-world social ties.

Oh and you can relax and stop watching how many “likes” you get: That doesn’t seem to correlate at all.

The study — which the researchers emphasize is an association study and cannot identify causation — was led by University of California San Diego researchers William Hobbs and James Fowler, collaborating with colleagues at Facebook and Yale. It is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research confirms what scientists have known for a long time about the offline world: People who have stronger social networks live longer. And it documents for the first time that what happens online may matter also.

“Interacting online seems to be healthy when the online activity is moderate and complements interactions offline,” said first author William Hobbs, who worked on the study as a UC San Diego doctoral student in political science and is now a postdoctoral fellow at Northeastern University. “It is only on the extreme end, spending a lot of time online with little evidence of being connected to people otherwise, that we see a negative association.”

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