Use of Facebook linked to lower GPA?

Last month, a paper presented at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) was cited on various media as the latest discovery on the use of social networking services. It sounded a negative one since it claimed that it found a link between the use of Facebook and lower grade point averages (GPA) among college students. Eszter Hargittai, a communications studies professor at Northwestern University, uploaded a post immediately following the press coverage of the paper, casting skepticism on how the study had been conducted and whether the sample used in the study was representative or not. Furthermore, Hargittai, along with two other scholars, co-authored a rebuttal study on First Monday, a peer-reviewed Internet journal, constituting an alternative result that no correlation between Facebook use and students’ grades has been found (although there is a statistically significant, positive relationship between the two factors without any control variables from a nation-wide sample, the significant disappears when the controls are inserted).

Since danah boyd, a scholar working at Microsoft Research, provides an excellent summary on the academic responses to the alleged AERA study, it is unnecessary to replicate every detail that has been successfully collected elsewhere. Instead, it should be of importance to consider what boyd, Hargittai and her co-authors have to say:

Unfortunately for all of us, when scholars (or students) disseminate findings based on poor methodology that reinforce myths that the media wants to propagate, they get picked up even if they are patently untrue and can be disproved through multiple alternative data sets. (danah boyd)

As researchers, we have long known the importance of replication and peer review. Without these safeguards, an intriguing preliminary finding can enter the popular discourse as if it represents established fact. ……easily sensationalized results and a widely distributed press release positioned the findings on a path bound to spiral out of control. (Josh Pasek, eian more and Eszter Hargittai)

Well, so much for the newest discovery on the use of Internet. At least we know that the originally disseminated press release on the study cannot be used as a reasonable ground on which the use of Facebook should be discouraged. Perhaps the same level of doubt should be cast on so many academic studies reported on media almost daily. The press is not likely nor generally is it able to examine the validity and relevance of the claims made by the research papers they like to cite. The relationship between the use of Internet applications like Facebook, and various social factors including academic achievement, socioeconomic status, or group affiliation has been the subject of ongoing discussions still unresolved. It would be helpful for us to remind ourselves that many things that are on and we use from the Internet tend to change rapidly, and therefore while flat, drastic conclusions are easier to swallow, they are often misleading in shaping our convictions around the world.

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