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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The "Facebook Effect" - How Social Networking Alters Your Understanding of Facts

We're all beautiful and you're ugly! - the "clique"
So now we have the "Facebook Effect" on science comprehension.

Let's imagine we have a scholarly scientific article about some topic - accurate and correct as best anyone can understand.

Now imagine below that article has invented sets of different "comments:"

One set positive.

One set negative.

One set full of name calling and vitriol.

According to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin described in this Journal-Sentinel article: "Disturbingly, readers' interpretations of potential risks associated with the technology described in the news article differed significantly depending only on the tone of the manipulated reader comments posted with the story," wrote authors Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele.

So arguing, angry folks writing comments on something like Facebook about the article content makes the science itself seem more dodgy.

"In other words, just the tone of the comments . . . can significantly alter how audiences think about the technology itself," according to the study.

Researchers found that even actual relevant scientific knowledge of the articles content did not seem to affect the perception created by the comments.

I don't think this is really very surprising but now one has to think about what it does for other things, like, say, your picture.

So I post my image and someone makes a disparaging comment and an argument ensues in the comment section.

No doubt this also says how you would then view me would be affected in a negative way.

Perhaps I myself would also view myself in a negative way because of this.

In fact, how is this different than the "in clique" laughing at you or making fun of you because you are not part of the clique...?

The study points out that in the past, when science was written in dusty journals checked out from the local university library the comprehension was different because there was no social commentary there to distract you.

One might conclude that the reach of Facebook now can influence people not just in their social activities but in more basic activities like learning.

It also shows how those with an agenda can influence your interpretation of facts simply by finding a way to make your consumption of those facts occur in a less-than-pleasant environment.

Not that this is really news I guess...

Imagine reading from a text book in class during silence as opposed to during an loud argument.

Unfortunately only 12% of the population, according to the study, actual goes to non-scientific sites to read about science. 

The rest, apparently, rely on Facebook.

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