Entwarnung [all-clear]: Facebook does not make you stupid!

Last month Aryn Karpinski, a doctoral student at Ohio State argued in an unpublished draft article  that College students who use Facebook spend less time studying and have lower grade point averages than students who have not signed up for the social networking website, based on a pilot study at one university. This bit of news hit the main stream fast and you could find articles based on the article in any outlet from CNN, BBC, the Chronicle of Higher Education, to Der Spiegel.

In less than one month Josh Pasek, eian more, and Eszter Hargittai responded in First Monday, a peer reviewd online publication with an article titled Facebook and academic performance: Reconciling a media sensation with data (First Monday, Volume 14, Number 5 – 4 May 2009), where they

attempt to replicate the results reported in the press release using three data sets: one with a large sample of undergraduate students from the University of Illinois at Chicago, another with a nationally representative cross sectional sample of American 14– to 22–year–olds, as well as a longitudinal panel of American youth aged 14–23. In none of the samples do we find a robust negative relationship between Facebook use and grades. Indeed, if anything, Facebook use is more common among individuals with higher grades. We also examined how changes in academic performance in the nationally representative sample related to Facebook use and found that Facebook users were no different from non–users.

On her blog Eszter recounts, how academic production changes in a hyper-mediatized environments:

On Sunday, April 16th I went to bed realizing that a story would likely spread like crazy the next day as it claimed a negative relationship between Facebook use and academic achievement. I looked up what I could about it and was concerned as it didn’t seem like the study offered solid evidence of the claims, but it was precisely the time of piece the media love.

By the time I woke up on Monday, April 17th, people among my Facebook contacts had started posting the story.

At 7:55am ET I tweeted the following:
Based on my UIC data set (representative sample of 1K+): no correlation b/w any Facebook use or # of hrs of SNS use & students’ grades, fyi.

Siva Vaidhyanathan responded soon after (at 8:18am to be precise) with this tweet:
@eszter will you blog prelim results of sns/grade correlation?

I would have preferred not to, mainly because it was the first day in a long time that I had a full day for my own work. But throughout the day, an increasing number of media outlets (first in the UK then in the US and elsewhere) picked up the story. Following all that media coverage were people’s tweets plus blog and Facebook posts about the study.

I decided I should blog about it after all and posted an entry here a few hours later. There is only so much you can say in 140 characters allowed on Twitter, after all, and I decided this was worth more elaboration.

Soon after, my blog post was automatically reposted on my Facebook Wall. My contacts started commenting on it including Josh Pasek who noted that his data also did not suggest the purported relationship between Facebook use and grades (see Facebook snippet above).

Twenty minutes after posting on my Facebook Wall, Josh sent me an email asking whether I was interested in “working on a report” about all this. I said I’d be up for working on something more formal.

Josh brought on eian more from the University of Pennsylvania, we had a conference call a few hours later and Josh started writing the first draft of the paper. Dozens of emails and about ten drafts later, we sent the paper off for consideration and peer-review to First Monday. A few days later it was accepted and a few days after that, it was published.

About Philipp

Philipp Müller works in the IT industry and is academic dean of the SMBS. Author of "Machiavelli.net". Proud father of three amazing children. The views expressed in this blog are his own.

09. May 2009 by Philipp
Categories: Blog | Tags: , , | 5 comments

Comments (5)

  1. gracie.zeng@gmail.com'

    I actually thought of sth like a “facebook and academic performance” project for our “Quantitative Analysis and Empirical Methods” class but my concern was that the students wouldn’t be willing to give out their authentic grades on the survey. I wonder how their survey was conducted or how the data was obtained

  2. gracie.zeng@gmail.com'

    I actually thought of sth like a “facebook and academic performance” project for our “Quantitative Analysis and Empirical Methods” class but my concern was that the students wouldn’t be willing to give out their authentic grades on the survey. I wonder how their survey was conducted or how the data was obtained

  3. sebastian.haselbeck@gmx.com'

    I thought the original “Facebook = stupid” study was highly questionable in the first place. Not only was the way it was done highly unrepresentative (who did they ask? 200 students from Ohio? well great job!), there’s also not much of a link between GPA and cleverness. Granted, Facebook (like any other media-related activity, like TV, DVD, IMing etc) lends itself to procrastination, but so what. they should so a study comparing how much Facebook users know about the world and non-Facebook users for example. On a more personal note, I don’t think anyone’s going to talk about Facebook anymore in a few years (unless they find a way to make money with this)

  4. sebastian.haselbeck@gmx.com'

    I thought the original “Facebook = stupid” study was highly questionable in the first place. Not only was the way it was done highly unrepresentative (who did they ask? 200 students from Ohio? well great job!), there’s also not much of a link between GPA and cleverness. Granted, Facebook (like any other media-related activity, like TV, DVD, IMing etc) lends itself to procrastination, but so what. they should so a study comparing how much Facebook users know about the world and non-Facebook users for example. On a more personal note, I don’t think anyone’s going to talk about Facebook anymore in a few years (unless they find a way to make money with this)

  5. azhcba@yahoo.com'

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