Another Piece Claiming Social Media Makes You Dumber
I had started a post last night about a recent report that Facebook and Twitter (and probably all social media based on how it’s worded) is generally dumbing people down. Then I watched and read reports of the London riots and saw media outlets in the United States, as well as those in England, talk about how technology and social media are inciting violence. I then recalled all the instances of news media mis-reporting based on bogus Twitter tips (among other social-media-based sources) and am starting to come to the conclusion that social media is dumbing down the media instead.
But since that thought process itself can drag me into hours of research to bolster my claims, I’m just going to take the media’s way out and claim it as true while I instead focus on the original purpose of my post, with a little bit of London riots for good measure.
The Original Post
Last week The Daily Mail posted the article “Facebook and Twitter are creating a vain generation of self-obsessed people with child-like need for feedback, warns top scientist” with the following introductory paragraph:
Facebook and Twitter have created a generation obsessed with themselves, who have short attention spans and a childlike desire for constant feedback on their lives, a top scientist believes.
The opinion is attributed to Baroness Greenfield, former director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain (considered one of Britain’s oldest and most venerable scientific institutions), professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, and who once referred to Stephen Hawking as
Taliban-like and later defended it by saying
What is dangerous…is to make sweeping assertions about a whole category of academia. It might be fair to say that she is making sweeping assertions about a whole category of social interaction. That the article provides no links to scientific papers or studies to support her claims in any way further demonstrates that there is nothing here beyond both Baroness Greenfield’s and The Daily Mail‘s disdain for social media.
Had the paper or Baroness stated that Twitter and Facebook seem to appeal to the personalities she cites, then it’s a different story. I even agree with that sentiment, and at the beginning of this year wrote about Twitter As Passive-Aggressive Enabler. I don’t, however, say that Twitter causes that behavior. That behavior is extant, social media just allows people to continue their bad behaviors.
Almost two years ago I remember The Telegraph running the piece “Facebook ‘enhances intelligence’ but Twitter ‘diminishes it’, claims psychologist.” Major news outlets across the world picked it up, but they all failed to fact check it. Only when directly asked if the researcher had any evidence did she admit there was no study, it was just her opinion. It annoyed me enough to write Facebook Doesn’t Make You Smarter, Rigorous Research Does where I discuss essentially the same thing I am discussing here — lack of any research or application of the scientific method to back up a claim otherwise clearly rooted in personal bias.
London Riots and Mis-Reporting
About those London riots, I’m going to keep this brief because I think the facts speak for themselves. Note this tweet:
This is how The Daily Mail reported it:
Ashley AR tweeted: ‘I hear Tottenham’s going coco-bananas right now. Watch me roll.’
This was in an article reporting on the riots and using Tweets and posts from an
internet forum to demonstrate the chaos. Except they misquoted that tweet. Which should make every other quote in that article suspect. Which might account for why the article was later edited to remove them, with no acknowledgment of the misquote. This screen shot shows how the article looked before editing (screen shot stolen from Simon Willison):
I’m starting to think The Daily Mail doesn’t like Twitter.