The torrent of news – leaked internal documents, congressional hearings, independent research – about the harm Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp cause gives the impression of an open-and-shut case. Surely, they pose a threat to their users’ mental health and spread misinformation.

Studies from Meta and a few academic researchers paint a different picture. They suggest minimal harm.

You would be forgiven for thinking that these seemingly contradictory findings mean somebody is right and somebody is wrong. That isn’t the case here, writes Joseph Bak-Coleman, who studies collective behavior at the University of Washington. How both sets of research can be correct comes down to the math of averages, he explains.

Also today:

Eric Smalley

Science + Technology Editor

Mark Zuckerberg’s company says the kids are all right, but the data it presents is only about how the average social media user is doing. AP Photo/Eric Risberg

The thousands of vulnerable people harmed by Facebook and Instagram are lost in Meta’s ‘average user’ data

Joseph Bak-Coleman, University of Washington

Research from Meta and some scientists shows no harm from social media, but other research and whistleblower testimony show otherwise. Seemingly contradictory, both can be right.

Economy + Business


  • Stereotypes about girls dissuade many from careers in computer science

    Allison Master, University of Houston; Andrew N. Meltzoff, University of Washington; Sapna Cheryan, University of Washington

    Could it be that girls aren’t pursuing jobs in computer science and engineering because society has told them that’s not what they want to do? Three scholars weigh in.

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