Are Facebook ‘‘Friends’’ Helpful?
Development of a Facebook-Based Measure
of Social Support and Examination of Relationships
Among Depression, Quality of Life, and Social Support
Wilfred McCloskey, MS,
Sierra Iwanicki, MA,
Dean Lauterbach, PhD,
David M. Giammittorio, MS,
and Kendal Maxwell, MS
Greater social support is predictive of lower depression and higher quality of life (QOL). However, the way in
which social support is provided has changed greatly with the expanding role of social networking sites (e.g.,
Facebook). While there are numerous anecdotal accounts of the beneﬁts of Facebook-based social support, little
empirical evidence exists to support these assertions, and there are no empirically validated measures designed
to assess social support provided via this unique social networking medium. This study sought to develop an
empirically sound measure of Facebook-based social support (Facebook Measure of Social Support [FMSS])
and to assess how this new measure relates to previously established measures of support and two outcome
variables: depression and QOL. Following exploratory factor analysis, the FMSS was determined to assess four
factors of social support on Facebook (Perceived, Emotional, Negative, Received/Instrumental). The Negative
Support factor on the FMSS was most strongly related to both depression and QOL with magnitudes (and
direction of relationships) comparable to a traditional measure of perceived social support. However, two FMSS
factors (Received/Instrumental and Perceived) were unrelated to both mental health outcomes. Contrary to
expectations, elevations in one FMSS factor (Emotional) was associated with worse symptoms of depression
and poorer psychological QOL. When taken together, only the absence of negative social support on Facebook
is signiﬁcantly predictive of mental health functioning. Consequently, those hoping to use Facebook as a
medium for reducing depression or improving QOL are unlikely to realize signiﬁcant therapeutic beneﬁts.
Face-to-face social support is clearly associated with
reduced symptoms of depression
and improved overall
quality of life (QOL).
However, social interaction is
changing with the increasing popularity of social networking
Web sites (e.g., Facebook). Research suggests people use
Facebook for maintaining previously established, in-person
and, to a lesser extent, developing new
As such, Facebook may logically be conceptu-
alized as a medium through which social support is pro-
vided. There are numerous anecdotal accounts of Facebook
‘‘support,’’ and there are more than 200 Facebook created
condition-speciﬁc support groups. Research ﬁndings support
anecdotal accounts, with Facebook users reporting a rela-
tionship between Facebook users’ ‘‘number of friends’’ and
This association has been shown to be
stronger for Facebook users than for users of other online
social networking sites (e.g., LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter).
These ﬁndings suggests Facebook affords users social sup-
port that other avenues do not offer (e.g., ease/speed of
contact, simultaneous interaction with multiple friends, un-
limited access, news feed, photographs).
While Facebook appears to be an important, and unique,
medium for provision of social support, research examining
this phenomenon is notably absent. No studies to date have
used a measure of social support that captures some of the
more unique aspects of Facebook as a social medium. As
Facebook is booming in popularity and appears to be a un-
ique context for perceived social support provision, this
paucity of data is particularly concerning. Therefore, to ad-
dress these issues, the current study aimed to develop a
Department of Psychology, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan.
University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Department of Psychology, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas.
CYBERPSYCHOLOGY,BEHAVIOR,AND SOCIAL NETWORKING
Volume 18, Number 9, 2015
ªMary Ann Liebert, Inc.
measure of Facebook-based social support, assess the in-
strument’s convergent validity, and examine the effect of
Facebook social support on depression and QOL. The liter-
ature review that follows will ﬁrst outline the relationship
between social support and two mental health outcomes
(depression and QOL). Next, it will outline the nature of
social support on the Internet and the absence of a measure
developed speciﬁcally to assess support on Facebook.
Social support and depression
A widely accepted deﬁnition of social support is ‘‘the
perception or experience that one is loved and cared for and
part of a social network of mutual assistance and obliga-
There are two related yet distinct types of social
support of interest in the current study: perceived and re-
ceived social support. Perceived social support comprises aid
one believes to be available if it were to be needed,
whereas received social support refers to the social support
actually utilized or obtained by an individual.
support is composed of several subdomains (Directive Gui-
dance, Non-directive Support, Tangible Assistance, and
Positive Social Exchange).
Greater perceived social support is consistently predictive
of lower levels of depression.
Findings are somewhat
mixed regarding the association between received social
support and depressive symptoms,
with some investiga-
tions ﬁnding a similar buffering effect.
et al. found two dimensions of received social support
(Tangible Assistance and Directive Guidance) were posi-
tively correlated with depression whereas Positive Social
Exchange was negatively correlated and, when aggregated,
the association between received social support and depres-
sion became nonsigniﬁcant.
These mixed ﬁndings suggest
received social support is likely a weaker predictor of de-
pressive symptoms relative to perceived social support.
Given the rapid growth in online social networking, it is
important to assess the possible palliative effects of social
support on Facebook. In other words, does social support on
Facebook translate into reduced depression?
Social support and QOL
QOL is deﬁned as ‘‘an individual’s perception of their
position in life in the context of the culture and value systems
in which they live, and in relation to their goals, expectations,
standards and concerns.’’
The majority of research exam-
ining the relationship between social support and QOL has
been conducted in the medical arena
with greater per-
ceived social support predicting improved QOL.
social support does not appear to predict the same im-
provements in QOL
but is positively correlated with life
satisfaction, a related but not identical construct.
it is clear that perceived social support is important in im-
proving QOL, the association with received social support is
more dubious. The question remains: does social support
provided on Facebook predict improved QOL?
Social support on the Internet
Social networking sites have been expanding in popularity
since 1997 with the advent of SixDegrees.com, which was
regarded as one of the ﬁrst mass-appeal social networking
sites. Currently, Facebook dominates the landscape (1.3
billion registered users worldwide
) of social networking
sites in no small part due to the number of options afforded to
users that aid in social connectedness, including high utili-
zation by ‘‘real-life’’ friends,
speed of communication,
and the ability to view/comment on user photos.
users report logging onto the site for social support,
research suggests that Facebook is the only social networking
site to be associated with perceived social support.
actual mechanism of beneﬁt of this social support, however,
is unclear. For example, research indicates that greater
number of Facebook friends is predictive of worse emotional
adjustment among ﬁrst year students but better emotional
adjustment among advanced students.
Few studies (N=11)
have empirically assessed Facebook-based social support. Of
these studies, investigators typically assessed Facebook-
based social support by using versions of established mea-
sures of social support modiﬁed to reﬂect Facebook-speciﬁc
support (see Table 1). The majority of extant research in this
area suggests that Facebook-based social support and ‘‘off-
line’’ support are highly correlated
and are associated
with both reduced depressive symptoms
It is important to reiterate, however, that the extant
research in the area of Facebook-based social support has
utilized adapted versions of existing measures to assess so-
cial support on Facebook or used ‘‘home grown’’ measures
Table 1. Existing Research Examining Facebook-Based Social Support
Study NAdapted social support measure Notes
Akbulut and Gunuc, 2012
255 Multidimensional Scale of Perceived
Social Support (MSPSS)
Asbury and Hall, 2013
292 Self-developed Seeking/offering social support
Cavello et al., 2012
134 Chogahara’s Social Inﬂuence on Physical Activity
High et al., 2014
84 Social Support Questionnaire (SSQ) 6 selected items
Indian and Grieve, 2014
299 Interpersonal Support Evaluation List (ISEL) Appraisal subscale
Liu and Yu, 2013
Oh et al., 2013
291 Self-developed Health-related social support
Vitak and Ellison, 2012
18 Qualitative Interview
Wright et al., 2013
274 Communication-Based Emotional
Support Scale (CBESS)
500 McCLOSKEY ET AL.
with unknown psychometric properties.
social support may appear analogous to traditional forms
of in-person social support, the unique aspects of sup-
port provided using Facebook (e.g., postings, acceptance of
friend requests, and ‘‘likes’’ of posts) may not be captured
by current measures of social support, which highlights the
need for a speciﬁc measure of Facebook-based social sup-
port. To date, there are no empirically validated measures
speciﬁcally assessing social support provided on Facebook.
The current study
The goals of this study were to develop a measure of
Facebook social support, examine the convergent validity of
this instrument, and examine the potential buffering effect
of greater Facebook social support on symptoms of depres-
sion and QOL.
The participants (N=633) for this study were recruited
from undergraduate classes at a mid-sized Midwestern uni-
versity. Participants were required to be at least 18 years old
but were not required to have a Facebook account to par-
ticipate, though the vast majority of participants reported
having at least one active Facebook page (91%). A college
sample was chosen because of the high prevalence of
Facebook use within this population.
Participants had a
median age of 21 years and were primarily female (70.1%),
Caucasian (64.8%), and single (53.4%). Regarding the var-
iables of interest for the study, participants on average re-
ported mild levels of depression (mean PHQ-9 score 6.33;
SD =5.62). Participants reported average QOL scores for the
Physical (M=27.99, SD =4.44), Psychological (M=21.25,
SD =4.35), and Social (M=10.68, SD =2.61) domains and
above average QOL for the Environmental domain
(M=29.16, SD =5.17) when compared with norms estab-
lished by an international ﬁeld trial of the World Health
Organization Quality of Life- Short Form (WHOQOL-
In-person received and perceived social support. The
Inventory of Socially Supportive Behaviors (ISSB)
40-item self-report questionnaire of received social support
assessing six domains of support: material aid, behavioral
assistance, intimate interaction, guidance, feedback, and
positive social interaction. Respondents rate the frequency
each behavior occurs on a 5-point Likert-type scale (0 =‘‘not
at all’’ to 4 =‘‘about every day’’), with higher scores re-
presenting more frequent receipt of social support. The ISSB
demonstrates strong internal consistency (a=0.94), which
was replicated in the current study (a=0.97).
The Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support
is a 12-item self-report measure designed to as-
sess respondent’s perception of available social support from
three sources: family, friends, and signiﬁcant other. Partici-
pants rate how supportive they view others on a 7-point
Likert-type scale (1 =‘‘very strongly disagree’’ to 7 =‘‘very
strongly agree’’), with higher values reﬂecting greater per-
ceived support. The MSPSS displays good internal consis-
tency in college student samples (a=0.88), which was
replicated in the current study (a=0.94).
Depression. The Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9)
is a 9-item self-report measure assessing frequency of de-
pressive symptoms and associated functional impairment.
Respondents rate how often they have been bothered by each
symptom over the last 2 weeks on a 4-point Likert-type scale
(0 =‘‘not at all’’ to 3 =‘‘nearly every day’’), with higher
values indicating more severe depressive symptoms. The
PHQ-9 showed satisfactory internal consistency reliability in
primary care settings (a=0.89) and is predictive of health-
related QOL scores (r=0.33 for bodily concerns, r=0.73 for
mental health problems
) and changes in severity of de-
In the current study, internal consistency of the
PHQ-9 was high (a=0.91).
QOL. The WHOQOL-BREF
is a 26-item self-report
QOL scale composed of 24 questions that assess the inten-
sity, capacity, frequency, and evaluation of an individual’s
QOL and two items assessing overall QOL and general
health. Items are scored on a 5-point Likert-type scale with a
variety of anchors (1 =‘‘not at all/very poor/very dissatisﬁed/
never’’ to 5 =‘‘completely/very good/very satisﬁed/ex-
tremely/always’’), with higher scores denoting better QOL.
Scores on the 24 items are summed into four domains:
Physical Health, Psychological, Social Relationships, and
Environment. The WHOQOL-BREF showed satisfactory
internal consistency reliability on all domains, ranging from
a=0.68 to 0.82.
Internal consistency for the subscales on
the WHOQOL-BREF in the present study were similar,
ranging from a=0.76 (Social) to 0.81 (Physical Health).
Subject recruitment occurred in undergraduate psychol-
ogy courses and via ﬂiers placed in prominent locations
across campus. During in-class recruitment, students were
informed of the study aims, potential risks/beneﬁts of study
participation, and time requirements. Interested individuals
completed instruments via online study management soft-
ware, which has been shown to be a satisfactory alternative
to traditional pencil and paper measures.
Development of the Facebook Measure
of Social Support
The Facebook Measure of Social Support (FMSS) was
developed to assess social support on Facebook. The initial
item pool consisted of 40 items that roughly corresponded to
perceived and received social support. A review of the items
by a panel composed of one professor of clinical psychology
and four doctoral students yielded a ﬁnal pool of 23 items to be
examined using exploratory factor analysis (EFA). The pur-
pose of the EFA was to (a) identify items for inclusion in the
instrument, and (b) identify latent classes (factors) of items.
Prior to conducting the analyses, data were inspected for
missingness to ensure that assumptions of statistical tests were
met. Missing data were below 2% for each item, so all indi-
viduals with missing data were included. Inspection of skew
and kurtosis showed moderate non-normality, so weighted
DEVELOPMENT OF A MEASURE OF FACEBOOK-BASED SOCIAL SUPPORT 501
least squares means and variance adjusted (WLSMV) esti-
mation was chosen for the EFA. Both the Kaiser–Meyer–
Olkin (KMO) measure of sampling adequacy (0.88) and
Bartlett’s test of sphericity (v
=4006.95, df =253, pp0.000)
supported factorability of the 23 items.
Three procedures were employed to determine factor re-
tention: examination of the scree plot, Kaiser’s criterion (i.e.,
), and parallel analysis using SPSS syn-
Visual inspection of the scree plot revealed a clear break
and subsequent leveling at the ﬁfth factor. Based on an un-
rotated solution, Kaiser’s criterion identiﬁed four factors ac-
counting for 52.27% of the total variance. However, parallel
analysis based on raw data vector permutation suggested re-
tention of seven factors. As a result, geomin-rotated EFA
using MLR estimation was conducted to produce solutions
between one and seven factors. Model statistics indicated that
the four-factor solution was the most parsimonious and best
ﬁtting model. Although the absolute ﬁt of the four-factor so-
lution was rejected, v
(167) =430.22, p<0.0001, information
and residual ﬁt statistics indicated overall good model ﬁt
(CFI =0.96; RMSEA =0.06; SRMR =0.04).
To evaluate further the items in the four-factor model, the
individual factor loadings were evaluated using their stan-
dard errors to determine whether they were statistically
signiﬁcant. Using a correction procedure from Cudeck and
O’Dell for correlated factors, a new a*-level was computed
to be 0.000625 (z
*=3.42). Next, items were examined to
determine whether to retain or eliminate based on statistical
hypothesis testing of the factor pattern loadings (see Cudeck
and O’Dell) and magnitude of the factor loadings.
dition to the aforementioned practical rationale, items with a
strong theoretical rationale were also retained. The ﬁnal in-
strument is a 14-item measure composed of four factors. The
ﬁnal items, rotated factor loadings, and values for Cron-
bach’s alpha are presented in Table 2. Internal consistency of
the entire scale was good (a=0.81).
The strength of relationships between the FMSS and the
two traditional measures of social support ( MSPSS and
ISSB) were examined to assess convergent validity. Three
factors of the FMSS (Perceived Social Support, Emotional
Social Support, and Instrumental Social Support) were sig-
niﬁcantly correlated with the ISSB. Two factors of the FMSS
(Negative Social Support and Perceived Social Support)
were signiﬁcantly correlated with the MSPSS (see Table 3).
Social support, depression, and QOL
Pearson correlations were computed to assess how per-
ceived (MSPSS) and received (ISSB) social support are re-
lated to depression (PHQ9) and QOL (WHOQOL-BREF).
As expected, perceived social support was negatively asso-
ciated with depression severity and positively associated
with all domains of QOL. Received social support was not
signiﬁcantly related to depression but was positively related
Table 2. Rotated Factor Loadings and Test Statistics for Hypothesis Testing
Criterion value for
Factor: Perceived Support (a=0.74)
For me, Facebook isn’t good for getting any kind
of real help or support. (Reverse-scored)
The support I get on Facebook is of practical help to me. 0.53 8.78
The support I get on Facebook makes me feel better. 0.41 6.41
Factor: Emotional Support (a=0.74)
I’m happy when people comment on my posts. 0.82 25.02
I’m happy when people ‘‘Like’’ my posts. 0.81 25.02
I get excited when I get a Facebook notiﬁcation. 0.72 19.41
I’m disappointed if I log on and don’t have any new notiﬁcations. 0.51 10.40
Factor: Negative Social Support (a=0.64)
I get a lot of negative responses on Facebook. 0.80 20.84
It freaks me out if my friend number decreases. 0.64 12.20
I get upset if somebody doesn’t accept my friend request. 0.57 12.24
Facebook actually makes me feel less close to people. 0.52 9.81
Factor: Received Informational/Instrumental Support (a=0.75)
If I needed help with something, I could post
it on Facebook and I’d get the help I need.
If I needed information about something, I could post
it on Facebook and I’d get the information I need.
People respond to me on Facebook as much as I want them to. 0.53 11.19
Table 3. Correlations Among Facebook Measure
of Social Support Factors and Traditional
Measures of Social Support
FMSS factor MSPSS
Instrumental social support -0.017 0.092*
Emotional social support 0.075 0.113*
Negative social support -0.280** 0.070
Perceived social support 0.151** 0.139**
FMSS, Facebook Measure of Social Support; MSPSS, Multi-
dimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support; ISSB, Inventory of
Socially Supportive Behaviors.
502 McCLOSKEY ET AL.
to three domains of QOL (Psychological, Social Relation-
ships, and Environment; see Table 4).
Pearson correlations were computed to assess the rela-
tionship between the FMSS factors, depression, and QOL.
Scores on the Emotional Support factor were positively
correlated with level of depression, suggesting greater emo-
tional support as measured by the FMSS is associated with
higher levels of depression. Scores on the Emotional Support
factor were negatively correlated with WHOQOL-BREF
domain examining psychological QOL and were not sig-
niﬁcantly related to any other WHOQOL-BREF domains.
Scores on the Negative Support factor were positively cor-
related with level of depression and negatively correlated
with all domains of QOL. Neither the Perceived Support nor
the Instrumental Support factors of the FMSS were signiﬁ-
cantly associated with either depression or QOL (see Table 4).
One aim of this investigation was to develop a measure of
social support received on Facebook that incorporates unique
features of support provided in this medium (e.g., liking
posts, speed of communication). Further, the researchers
hypothesized that social support on Facebook would predict
respondents’ perception of QOL and depression.
Results of an exploratory factor analysis of Facebook-
related social support items yielded a four-factor solution
(Emotional Support, Perceived Support, Instrumental Sup-
port, and Negative Support). It is encouraging that the
hypothesized factors of the FMSS demonstrate convergent
validity with traditional measures of social support. Three
factors on the FMSS (Instrumental, Emotional, and Perceived
Social Support) were signiﬁcantly correlated with the tradi-
tional measure of received social support (i.e., ISSB) in the
hypothesized direction, which suggests that the FMSS is an
adequate measure of social support received on Facebook.
Additionally, two FMSS factors assessing the perception of
social support on Facebook (Negative Social Support and
Perceived Social Support) were also signiﬁcantly correlated
with the traditional measure of perceived social support (i.e.,
MSPSS) in the hypothesized direction, which suggests the
FMSS also captures perception of social support on Facebook.
Findings suggest support provided on Facebook is related
to QOL and depression, although not always in the hypoth-
esized direction. As expected, Negative Support was posi-
tively correlated with depressive symptoms, and negatively
correlated with QOL. However, the Emotional Support fac-
tor of the FMSS was unexpectedly associated with higher
depression and lower QOL. These curious ﬁndings suggest
that while individuals may report that support provided by
‘‘friends’’ on Facebook is beneﬁcial, this support may not
translate to measurable reduction in depressive symptoms or
improvements in QOL. However, it may be the case that
online social support is impacted by an inherent confound of
social networking: individuals who are in more distress ac-
cess social support resources more often when compared
with those in less distress.
So, in cross-sectional re-
search, it is especially difﬁcult to determine if social support
predicts worse depression and QOL or whether more dis-
tressed individuals access social support resources more
frequently to cope with this distress. This uncertainty may
account for these seemingly paradoxical study ﬁndings.
Limitations of the study and implications of ﬁndings
The current study had a number of limitations. Perhaps
most notably, the study sample consisted of college students,
most of whom have been exposed to Facebook and have a
high degree of comfort and familiarity with support provided
via this medium. Therefore, these ﬁndings may not gener-
alize to groups that are less comfortable/familiar with using
Facebook. Second, as the FMSS is newly developed, the
measure may not fully capture all types of social support
available on Facebook, an important issue given the rapidly
evolving nature of the medium. Third, the majority of the
sample was female, and it is unclear how ﬁndings from the
current study will generalize to a sample more representative
of the population. Lastly, criterion validity of the FMSS was
assessed via comparison with only two outcome measures.
Future research should seek to conﬁrm (or disconﬁrm) the
criterion validity of the FMSS using other widely used
measures of depression (e.g., BDI-II) and QOL (e.g., Tem-
poral Satisfaction with Life Scale; TSWLS).
Despite these limitations, the development of the FMSS
has signiﬁcant implications for the construct of social sup-
port in the 21st century. Research clearly suggests that Fa-
cebook use is correlated with improved mental health
and with in vivo social support.
However, as this study
demonstrates, Facebook-based social support is not com-
pletely analogous to more traditional constructs of social
support and thus may supplement but not supplant in-person
The FMSS provides a quantitative measure of this
new construct, which will enhance understanding of how
support may manifest on Facebook. More speciﬁcally, the
distinct factors of Facebook-based social support delineated
on the FMSS may be predictive of enacted coping strategies
Table 4. Relationship Between Types of Social Support, Depression, and QOL
Social support measure PHQ-9 Phy. Health Psych Social Rel. Environ.
MSPSS -0.204** 0.366** 0.358** 0.514** 0.448**
ISSB 0.043 0.024 0.108* 0.202** 0.138**
Perceived social support 0.070 -0.031 -0.026 -0.014 -0.042
Emotional social support 0.165** -0.020 -0.169** -0.067 -0.032
Negative social support 0.107* -0.303** -0.243** -0.172** -0.229**
Instrumental social support 0.052 0.031 -0.006 0.036 0.038
DEVELOPMENT OF A MEASURE OF FACEBOOK-BASED SOCIAL SUPPORT 503
on Facebook, as is the case with more traditional forms of
social support (e.g., increases in perceived emotional support
is predictive of problem-focused coping strategies,
ceived social support moderates coping with stress
). It is
clear that Facebook provides users with an ever-changing
social milieu. Therefore, it is crucial that the FMSS remain a
‘‘living’’ measure, able to be molded to reﬂect the state of the
science of psychology and changes in social networking sites
The authors would like to acknowledge Danny Jones for
his contributions to the development and implementation of
this project. The authors would like to acknowledge Danny
Jones for his contributions to the development and imple-
mentation of this project.
Author Disclosure Statement
No competing ﬁnancial interests exist.
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Address correspondence to:
Dr. Dean Lauterbach
303a Mark Jefferson Science Complex
Department of Psychology
Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
DEVELOPMENT OF A MEASURE OF FACEBOOK-BASED SOCIAL SUPPORT 505