How Well Do People Report Time Spent on Facebook? An Evaluation of Established Survey Questions with Recommendations

Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI)


Many studies examining social media use rely on self-report survey questions about how much time participants spend on social media platforms. Because they are challenging to answer accurately and susceptible to various biases, these self-reported measures are known to contain error – although the specific contours of this error are not well understood. This paper compares data from ten self-reported Facebook use survey measures deployed in 15 countries (N = 49,934) against data from Facebook’s server logs to describe factors associated with error in commonly used survey items from the literature. Self-reports were moderately correlated with actual Facebook use (r = 0.42 for the best-performing question), though participants significantly overestimated how much time they spent on Facebook and underestimated the number of times they visited. People who spent a lot of time on the platform were more likely to misreport their time, as were teens and younger adults, which is notable because of the high reliance on college-aged samples in many fields. We conclude with recommendations on the most accurate ways to collect time-spent data via surveys.

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