I read somewhere in the last couple of days about the ever expanding gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” around the world and specifically in the United States. One interesting dimension that a study focused on was the difference of social media usage and interactions in different groups in society. The news report mentioned that the size of someone’s “network” such as the number of friends they might have on Facebook or the number of connections they have on LinkedIn has a direct relationship to the education level that the person has attained. Specifically, people who have attended college usually have a larger network than those who only attended high school but have not gone on to college. What I find challenging about this study is that it is a bit counter intuitive. When I looked at my own network within Facebook I found that the younger the person the bigger their network. For example, one of my cousins who happens to be in their teens has a network that is 4 times the size of my network on Facebook, yet that individual has not even graduated high school whereas I have a higher education degree.
While I obviously have only one data point to counter the study that was quoted, I find myself highly spectacle of it. While it might sound interesting that people who have more degrees are likely to have bigger networks, the more important question is what do they do within that network. For example, I could easily amass a network of 5000 people on Facebook by inviting everyone that is a friend of a friend to join my network. While many who don’t know me might reject my invitation, one would be amazed by how many would actually accept to join the network of someone they don’t know.
The point that I driving at is that social media purely for the sake of social media seems pointless, however, if there is a clear purpose behind it, I have found that people will increase their chances of success. For example, if someone is interested in a specific topic in project management, joining a LinkedIn group focused on that topic can get out of their social media interactions a lot more than simply posting updates on their Facebook wall related to that topic. Similarly, someone interested in keeping in touch with friends and family might find a site like LinkedIn to be a frustrating media outlet for such use.
I believe that studies such as the one I heard about fit into that same category of potential false positives where some researcher is attempting to make a conclusion out of something just for the sake of making that conclusion. There is a danger in looking at data without applying critical thinking to it. I’m not saying that the study is wrong nor that it does not have merit. However, the news report did not present any compelling evidence to suggest it is worthy of exploring.