Facebook leads to lower grades!?!

'Red Spiral'
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In what must be one of the most ridiculously alarmist and inaccurate articles I’ve read in a while, career website Milkround is claiming that Facebook users could risk having lower grades as a result of their usage of the social networking site. Unfortunately, it looks like another instance of a journalist falling for the “correlation implies causation” fallacy.

According to Milkround:

Researchers at Ohio State University found students who enjoy communicating via cyberspace spend less time studying and risk getting a whole grade lower than their peers as a result despite more than three quarters of Facebook users claiming their interaction with friends on the site didn’t interfere with their work.

The study claims Facebook users averaged one to five hours a week studying, while non-users studied 11 to 15 hours per week.

By implication of the article and study, a typical student would do 4 times more work if they didn’t have Facebook and on average would achieve one grade higher.

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Here’s an explanation which is much more likely: More extroverted people who go to more parties and get involved in more societies are much more likely to use Facebook. The people who constantly work 24/7 are the people who are more likely to refuse to get a Facebook account or will have little use for a Facebook account. The likelihood of a student having a Facebook account depends on his participation in college life and how hard working he is.

Of course, students do use Facebook as a procrastination tool – I won’t argue with that. But correlations prove nothing. As a more rigiourous technique to test this hypothesis, we’d need to compare student’s results before they signed up to Facebook and results after signing up to Facebook (assuming a constant level of how hard-working or social the students are). Alternatively, you’d need a control group of people who are social and roughly as hard-working as the Facebook group but don’t use Facebook (good luck finding one).

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