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How much time do you waste on Facebook? Less than you think, study suggests

Duane Hoffman / NBC News

We silly humans can be masters of self-deception at times. We convince ourselves that we don't really eat that much candy, that we don't spend that much time watching TV, that we don't actually stare at the mirror for that long in the mornings, and so on. Generally speaking, we try to believe that we do something significantly less than we actually do it ... except when it comes to Facebook.

Dr. Reynol Junco, a researcher at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, examined just how much people think they use Facebook in comparison to how much they actually do. He paid 45 students to allow him to install monitoring software on their computers and run it for one month. He asked those same students to estimate how much time they spent on Facebook, how often they log into the social network, and how frequently they use other services such as Twitter and email.

While this is a rather small sample size for such a survey, the results are noteworthy, because — as Junco explains — students were prone to significantly overestimating how much time they spent on Facebook. "They reported spending an average of 149 minutes per day on Facebook," he writes, "which was significantly higher than the 26 minutes per day they actually spent on the site."

Junco suggests that the discrepancy between estimated and measured usage times may be due to several factors. Perhaps the questions posed simply weren't specific enough and students took "how much time do you spend on Facebook each day?” as meaning “how much time are you logged in?” or even “how much time do you spend thinking about Facebook?” It is also possible that the individuals accessed Facebook via multiple devices, thereby circumventing the monitoring software at times. (Junco points out that he did look into use of multiple devices. He "found that there was no way to explain the large difference between actual and self-reported time.")

Once we get past potential issues with Junco's surveying or monitoring process, it appears that people may be incapable of accurately estimating their actual social media use. Junco suggests that this may be due to "implicit theories" individuals have about "how they use technology that are likely based on messages received by the media and adults (i.e., 'youth use Facebook a lot!'). This would lead them to give inflated estimates of the actual amount of time they spend on the site."

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