Research flunks the eye test

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Perhaps you recall a two-part series we ran in this space last month, explaining how outside factors can change what we ingest from social media.

The public seemed to reply with one giant question …

Does extensive use of social media harm our ability to interact with others face to face?

OK, so two studies just released jointly by the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri claim to answer that question.

Spoiler alert: I think they’re nuts.

The Midwest researchers insist extensive time spent on Twitter, Snapchat and other platforms has no significant negative effect on social interactions or social well-being.

The following explanation accompanied release of the research:

“The current assumption is that when people spend more time on apps like Facebook and Snapchat, the quality of their in-person social interactions decreases,” said Michael Kearney, assistant professor at the UM School of Journalism.

“However, our results suggested that social media use doesn’t have a strong impact on future social interactions.”

The first study, which followed the social media use of individuals from 2009 to 2011, found that change in social media use was not associated with changes in direct social contact.

The second study, which surveyed adults and college students through text-messaging over the course of five days, found that social media use earlier in the day did not have any impact on future social interactions.

I SEE you raising your eyebrows in doubt.

Me, too.

And likewise Josh Misner, the North Idaho College communications professor who was our in-house expert for that two-part series on social media.

Without using the exact word, Misner suggested that the conclusions from Kansas and Missouri are simply bunk.

“I don’t buy it. At all,” Misner said.

“First, their longitudinal data is seven years old! They were studying social media usage from 2009 to 2011, which was before the big boom in social media and increased usage worldwide.

“A lot has changed in social media in just the last year, let alone the past seven years. I have a hard time understanding why it took them seven years to publish this type of study and pass it off as contemporary and relevant.

“Secondly, there are plenty of other research studies that tell us that as time spent on social media increases, our happiness proportionately decreases.”

MISNER CITED a more recent study done by Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

Here’s a portion of the Twenge study: “Smartphone ownership reached 50 percent in late 2012 — right when teen depression and suicide began to increase. By 2015, 73 percent of teens had access to a smartphone.

“Smartphone use and depression increased in tandem, but time spent online also was linked to mental-health issues.

“Overall, suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online.”

Those results cannot come as a surprise, surely.

In addition to rigorously vetted studies that indicate heavy use of social media (especially smartphones) ultimately makes people unhappy, there is what a non-scientist like me would call the “eye test.”

In other words, look around you.

Kids who use their phones non-stop tend to have marginal social skills in the real world.

Adults who bury themselves in social media almost always wind up gloomy from the experience.

In other words …

Speak to real people once in a while.


Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.


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Twitter: @BrandNewDayCDA

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