Entwarnung [all-clear]: Facebook does not make you stupid!
Last month Aryn Karpinski, a doctoral student at Ohio State argued in an unpublished draft articleÂ that College students who use Facebook spend less time studying and have lower grade point averages than students who have not signed up for the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 14â€“ to 22â€“yearâ€“olds, as well as a longitudinal panel of American youth aged 14â€“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 nonâ€“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 didnâ€™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 & studentsâ€™ 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 peopleâ€™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 â€œworking on a reportâ€ about all this. I said Iâ€™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.
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.