Do social sites like Facebook connect the world or isolate people? Undergraduate Soraya Mehdizadeh of York University claims to know the answer and has researched this question for a senior paper that was published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. And because it was published and her conclusions fit a media narrative that demagogues find attractive, it got a lot of press coverage. Here. And here. And here.
It’s official. Facebook users are narcissistic with low self-esteem. Men like to brag and women like to show off their best side. And this is news? When did Facebook change this basic human behavior?
Let’s ignore the fact that many college students today are not embracing Facebook as they once did, opting instead for the more private and exclusive circle of text messaging for their real friends. Or that the fastest growing segment of users of Facebook are over thirty-five. Or that she only looked at 100 college students at one college in Canada. Facebook statistics are readily available to any news media organization that wants to independently verify the legitimacy of a study.
I think a study like this says more about our thirst for entertainment at the cost of truth. I think a journal that publishes a study this flawed and subjective says more about the quality of the publication rather than the study. And I think it says a ton more about the quality of the school that allows a study like this to be published by a student who has supposed to have finished a course of study that has an obligation to teach her observational and deductive reasoning skills that qualifies her to practice medicine on living people in several years.
But the relative ease at which news organizations were duped into reporting this study as news without questioning the science behind it speaks more to the sloth of journalism and greed of for-profit news organizations than it does for answering the questions the study claims to have discovered. It is astounding that professional news media glom onto a headline masquerading as a study and propagate it out across the AP, UPI wire as if it were news fit to print.
But then, I am making all these assertions based on the paper abstract and first page alone. That was all that was displayed on the website without paying for it. I’m certain the media did not spring for access and judging from the depth of their stories, even if provided a free copy, they did not read past the first page.
Does Facebook connect or isolate people, was that the original question? Who the hell cares. What I do care about is that of the fifty-three friends I have in my Facebook collection, if Facebook were to go away tomorrow, I’d still know how to connect with them. And I think that most people would also know how to connect with the few dozen Facebook friends who really are their friends. So I think that Facebook perhaps makes it easier to remind me of their place in my life while simultaneously making it easy to feel I can always reach out, so I seldom do. But their photo in my friend box reminds me of them. And I hope mine does the same for them.
And I haven’t changed my profile picture in forever. A social media forever, anyway.
After publishing my #letsblogoff, I clicked through my usual reading material and by way of Chris Brogan, I rediscovered Mark Horvath (@hardlynormal). What follows on his blog is a huge testament to how social media spaces are not only connecting people, but transforming lives and giving homeless people hope. I warn you, before you click off to his site, you may feel a bit humbled and dare I say, sheepish at your own observations of what social media can do. I know I did. Thank you, Mark, for reaffirming that we are all in this together. And now his site, WeAreVisible.com
This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about “Do social sites like Facebook connect the world or isolate people?” To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.