Comment »Posted on Tuesday 14 April 2009 at 4:06 pm by Jacob Aron
In Education, Getting It Wrong

A recent study from Ohio State University has found that university students who use Facebook spend less time studying and get lower grades. How do you think the media reported this? That’s right folks, it’s time for another round of “correlation does not equal causation”!

Three paragraphs in to the press release, co-author of the study Aryn Karpinski makes it clear that she has only shown a correlation between Facebook use and bad marks: “We can’t say that use of Facebook leads to lower grades and less studying – but we did find a relationship there.”

I did a quick (and non-exhaustive) Google News search to see who was reporting the study, and how they were presenting its findings. The results are pretty much what you would expect.

“Pupils who spend time on Facebook do worse in exams, study shows” – Daily Mail
“Facebook students underachieve in exams” -The Telegraph
“Facebook fans do worse in exams” – The Times
“Facebook users do less work” – The Sun

The extent to which each news outlet pushes the idea that Facebook has caused these poor results varies. The worst offender is The Times, who’s strapline “Research finds the website is damaging students’ academic performance” is simply inaccurate. The others merely state the existence of a link, that students who use Facebook are also students with bad grades, but heavily imply that one has caused the other.

As one commenter on the Mail story points out, the whole idea is nonsense. Imran from Bristol says:

How silly, you could write an article called “Students who spend time down the pub” “Students who spend time watching the telly” or “Students who spend time doing do worse in exams, study shows”

Procrastinators procrastinate in any way they can. Be it Facebook, watching TV, or going to the gym, if you put off studying then you are going to be outperformed by those who apply themselves and get good grades. The media love a Facebook story though, especially when it’s contributing to the downfall of modern society as we know it, so that’s the angle we get. Now, I should probably stop blogging and get back to revising…


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