Don’t Believe the Hype

Posted on: 04/11/12 7:05 PM | by Jonathan McKee

Last week I read an article link that claimed, “Facebook is Responsible for 1/3 of All Divorces.”

Really? Would you actually repeat that statistic? Are you willing to bet your reputation that it’s true? Should we believe the headlines when we read this kind of stuff… or should we possibly take 60 seconds to dig a little deeper?

Last week I implored parents in my parent workshop, “Don’t just read the headlines!” As a guy who spends about 5 to 10 hours a week researching youth culture, let me assure you, headlines can be sooooooo misleading. Take this Facebook article, for example. Last week I saw several different headlines, blog posts and web links all linking to this article, which claimed, an I quote, “Studies have found that Facebook can actually be serious trouble for a relationship and is responsible for one-third of divorces. One-third!”

This provides a perfect example of what to look out for in media hype:

  1. Steer clear of those who don’t cite their research. I’m not being an alarmist when I say, “Never believe a statistic that someone doesn’t cite.” Seriously. If a “study shows that…” then they should document that study. That way you, the reader, can see if Nielson truly analyzed 65,000 phone bills, or if a guy named Jimmy asked 4 teenagers in his garage, “How many of yous guys text each other? Hmmmmm…two hands. I guess that means that a recent survey shows that only 50% of young people text each other!”
  2. Watch out for articles that misread and misquote studies. I know… I know. This one is a little more difficult. This sometimes takes clicking a source and skimming it for a minute or two. Misreading and misquoting stats is common. I’ve written about that in great detail in this 2009 Youth Culture Window article, and again in this 2011 article down under the subtitle “Misinformation.” Or simply take a peek at that Facebook article linked above. That article was not only based on numbers from a website called Divorce Online (hmmmm… red flags anyone?), it actually misread Divorce Online’s original claims. Blogger Tom Royal breaks that down here. But that brings up another subject…
  3. Watch out for online surveys about how many people are doing “online” activities. Yeah. Duh! I once read a statistic about how much time the average teenager spends on the Internet each day. I was familiar with recent numbers from Kaiser and Nielsen, but this particular survey in question revealed waaaaaay higher numbers. About a minute of scrolling and reading quickly revealed that this was based on a survey of a few hundred kids that responded to an online poll on a teen website. Just think about that one. (Let me go down to the corner bar and take a quick survey of how many people in America drink!)

So what can you do as a reader to make sure you are reading and researching responsibly?

Simple. Make sure you make a habit of getting your data from trustworthy sources. Sorry, that excludes all forwarded emails from your Aunt Judy. If any of the articles or studies you read violate the three blunders above…consider reading from a different source.

I can assure you that I’ve probably mistyped, misread or even forgot a citation. I’m human, and I am often pounding out over 5 articles per week. But I can also assure you that those mistakes are the exception. We always strive for accuracy and transparency.That’s why I provide you with a box on the front page of titled, “Offsite articles Jonathan has read this week” so you can read the exact same articles and studies I’m reading.

If you trust us enough to CONNECT WITH US and subscribe to my blog, our free Youth Culture Window articles or other free newsletters, we are going to make the greatest efforts to always deliver you accurate research with our sources cited and checked. You deserve to know the truth!

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