The Behavioral Effects of Social Media

Last registered on March 02, 2019


Trial Information

General Information

The Behavioral Effects of Social Media
Initial registration date
February 27, 2019
Last updated
March 02, 2019, 1:01 PM EST


Primary Investigator

Department of Economics, Texas A&M University

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Department of Economics, Texas A&M University
PI Affiliation
Department of Economics, Texas A&M University
PI Affiliation
Department of Economics, Texas A&M University
PI Affiliation
Department of Economics, Texas A&M University

Additional Trial Information

Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Social media permeates many aspects of our lives, including how we connect with others, where we get our news and how we spend our time. Yet, we know little about the economic effects for users. In 2017, we ran a large field experiment with over 1,765 individuals to document the value of Facebook to users and its causal effect on news consumption and awareness, well-being and daily activities. Participants reveal how much they value one week of Facebook usage and are then randomly assigned to a validated Facebook restriction or normal use. Those who are off Facebook for a week reduce news consumption, are less likely to recognize politically-skewed news stories, report being less depressed and engage in healthier activities. One week of Facebook is worth $67, and this increases by 19.6% after experiencing a Facebook restriction (33% for women), reflecting information loss or that using Facebook may be addictive.

Registration Citation

Guo, Xiongfei et al. 2019. "The Behavioral Effects of Social Media." AEA RCT Registry. March 02.
Former Citation
Guo, Xiongfei et al. 2019. "The Behavioral Effects of Social Media." AEA RCT Registry. March 02.
Experimental Details


We elicit the value of Facebook using an incentive compatible mechanism. Qualified participants are randomly assigned to a validated Facebook restriction or normal use.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Value of Facebook, news awareness, news access through different media, news consumption, core subjective wellbeing measures, daily activities, and time use
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
In order to analyze the effects of social media on news awareness, consumption behavior, time allocation and subjective wellbeing the first step is to recover how much people value social media. It is not enough to just call for volunteers for an experiment that closes access to Facebook for a week, since the people that will likely volunteer are those that value Facebook the least. Using a selected sample of volunteers to estimate the effects of not accessing Facebook on the proposed outcomes will yield results that are not generalizable, not even to the population of college students. Thus, it is important to understand the mechanism behind this selection process.

In this sense, the first step of this protocol is to implement a recruitment mechanism that allows to recover the distribution of the value of Facebook in the potential population. Then, we can use this distribution to understand the selection process into the experiment and potentially we could use the valuation distribution to weight the estimates to obtain more externally valid results.

Recruitment mechanism
Participants for this study will be selected from the population of Texas A&M students (graduate and undergraduate) in the College Station campus.

In order to enroll the participants for this study we will apply the following procedure designed to recover the distribution of the value Facebook has for college students:
1. Send a massive email to Texas A&M students in the College Station campus indicating the general characteristics of the experiment. The email includes a link that directs the reader to a Qualtrics survey web page where we will select participants using the BDM mechanism.
2. The first screen in Qualtrics will collect basic demographic information (gender, age in years, major, zip code/country of birth) and will explain briefly the main ideas of the experiment.

3. In the second screen, subjects are explained the functioning of the selection mechanism.

4. The third screen displays only a field to capture the student’s valuation of her time on Facebook, with a description.

5. The forth screen presents the random counter offer. For the case where the counter offer is greater or equal than the valuation, the screen will indicate that the subject has been preselected to participate, that we are going to randomly select the final participants who will be paid the counter offer at the end of the experiment, will provide information on the date and location of the experimental session, will indicate that email reminders will be sent before the experiment, and it will request for the participant’s email address. For the case where the counter offer is less than the valuation, the screen will thank the participant for filling his valuation and basic data.

Experimental Sessions

All participants will fill a survey collecting information about the outcomes before the interventions. Half of the participants will be randomly chosen not to access their Facebook (both the news feed and Facebook messenger) for a period of 1 week.

For the treated group, we will implement the following procedure to log them off Facebook:
1. Before the session, we will create a Facebook account for the experiment.
2. Provide participants access to laptop computer.
3. Ask the participants to become Facebook friends with the experiment’s account.
4. Guide each participant through the procedure of logging off from every device where his/her accounts are active using Facebook’s controls.
5. The experimental account will be permanently closed at the end of the experiment.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomly assigned ID numbers, randomization is done by a computer
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
For the value of Facebook 2,000, for randomization 170
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
85 in treatment, 85 in control
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Texas A&M University IRB
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials