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The researchers say that they were surprised by the results. They had expected internet use to provide some social benefits. Instead, they found that there was a slightly negative effect.
A few questions remain, however. This study was done over the course of 1 to 2 years, with people who were using the internet for the first time. Are people who are more prone to being depressed use the internet more than those who have better social ties? Would the results be the same now, nearly a generation later, with people who have been using the internet regularly from childhood? How have online social networks — which were in their infancy in 1998 — changed both real-life relationships and online relationships since then?
A 2010 study at Leeds University also found that a small group of users showed addictive tendencies, and that they were more likely to be depressed than other people. They were also more likely to use websites that were related to sex, gaming (or gambling), and online communities than other internet users.
This suggests that the type of use is important. Using the internet to meet new people or keep in contact with people you already know could be a healthy extension of social communication. Using online communication as a substitute for other social relationships could make you feel more isolated and so make you more prone to depression.
Like any technology, there are benefits and harmful effects when first introduced. Cars made it possible for people to live outside the city in nicer, larger homes with yards, and access to nature. But they also led to smog and other pollution, traffic jams, tens of thousands of people dying in accidents every year, and urban sprawl. The internet is simply a newer technology, and we will take some time to explore the benefits, and deal with the negative consequences of its use.