There are plenty of reasons to criticize certain aspects of social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, and it's no surprise at all that there's something of a growing backlash against some of the sites. But, what's amazing is the level of hyperbole that has come with criticism of both Facebook and Twitter over the past few months, most of it either flat-out wrong or, at the very least, uninformed:
- First, there was the totally ridiculous claim that Facebook would give you cancer. Of course, that's just what the press release said. The actual research said no such thing.
- Then there were the researchers who claimed that Facebook made girls depressed, but seemed unaware of the difference between correlation and causation.
- Then there was the claim that the only people who used Twitter were losers who had no self-identity (this from a clinical psychologist) or massively insecure (from a cognitive neuroscientist). There was no reasoning behind those claims. They just didn't like Twitter. The same thing, of course, could be said about email. Or the telephone. Or the telegraph. Or letters. How dare people wish to communicate with others! Insecure bastards!
- Next up was the pharmacology professor who claimed that Twitter and Facebook help infantilize our brains. Based on what evidence? Nothing more than a hunch and some incorrect assumptions. I'd argue that making stuff up is more likely to infantilize our brains than communicating with others.
- Then there was the study that got tons of press about how students who used Facebook got worse grades than those who didn't. The problem there? Bad research methodology. Some more comprehensive research showed the original findings were total bunk.
- And, now, the very latest, found via Mathew Ingram is some guy (who's name we won't even bother mentioning because he's simply trying to gain publicity to sell books on how to get noticed) claiming that Twitter causes brain damage. He had put out a press release claiming this (he's not a doctor or a scientist or anything -- just a "social media expert" who obviously shouldn't be hired for help with Twitter), but then pulled it down when someone who had a relative with brain damage complained. But he stuck by his complaints, none of which make much sense:
Twitter is little more than a slick microblog service, really nothing more than Facebook's status update feature, which I happen to think is better designed.
Er... no one said it was anything more than that. But it is actually quite different from Facebook's status update, mainly in the openness of Twitter. But that's fine. So he doesn't like it. Why does that mean it causes brain damage?
I don't want to follow Domino's pizza on Twitter. Sometimes I just want the pizza, you know?
I don't want to follow Domino's Pizza on Twitter either. So, you know what? I don't.
And I think Twitter teaches younger users the wrong values -- namely, that WHAT you say matters far less than how many "followers" you have.
Really? Then someone is using Twitter incorrectly. I never look at how many followers anyone has and I don't really care. All that matters to me in figuring out who I follow is if they have something interesting to say. In my experience, Twitter is exactly the opposite of what this guy claims. Perhaps his issue about numbers of users displays more about his own fears than Twitter.
And it is making us dumber: news anchors airing dumb, abbreviated opinions of 15-year-olds. Who cares?
Ah, yes, anecdotal stupidity. Well, it's just as easy to flip that around. Twitter is allowing those who never had a voice before to get heard. Will it be misused or used badly? Sure, at times. But does that condemn the whole system? No more than the fact that some folks use the telephone to say stupid things to one another means the telephone makes us stupid.
Also, most of what I read on Twitter is social posturing, self-promotion, and nonsense -- a whole community of people trying to boost their "follower count" without building real relationships with friends or customers or anyone else.
The problem seems to be this guy doesn't follow interesting people and doesn't seem to recognize the little button that makes it easy to unfollow anyone you dislike. Most of what I read on Twitter is insightful, interesting, relevant and fascinating. But that's because I try to follow insightful, interesting, relevant and fascinating people on Twitter. This guy should try that.
On the whole, though, it does seem a bit odd, looking at how incredibly hyperbolic and unsupported all of these claims are. Based on them, I could easily retort that "Criticizing Twitter And Facebook Makes You Stupid." But who would make widespread generalizations based on a few hand-picked pieces of data anyway?