Yesterday, a number of publications (ourselves included) covered a story about a supposed link between Facebook use and youths contracting sexual transmitted diseases in certain parts of the UK.
If you thought something about the story wasn’t quite right you’re not alone. We’re looking at a severe case of ‘media hype over nothing’ here.
In an post entitled “How the Sun the Telegraph spread syphilitic nonsense around the world”, The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade sums up how the story got out of hand. He points out that the academic in question never mentioned Facebook by name and that link between sex diseases and online social networking was never any more than plain speculation.
Valleywag, meanwhile got a quote from Facebook setting the record straight:
“While it makes for interesting headlines, the assertions made in newspaper reports that Facebook is responsible for the transmission of STDs are ridiculous, exaggerate the comments made by the professor, and ignore the difference between correlation and causation. As Facebook’s more than 400 million users know, our Web site is not a place to meet people for casual sex – it’s a place for friends, family and coworkers to connect and share.
Also, note that the NHS release does not mention Facebook.”
The ‘Facebook shorthand’ problem
Yes, the ‘Facebook link’ was added by a newspaper. The root problem is that mainstream media outlets like to use “Facebook” as a shorthand for anything to do with social media. Only last month the Daily Mail claimed that “Facebook causes cancer” when the research they were referring to made no mention of that particular social network.
Facebook even threatened to sue the Daily Mail over another article that claimed that youngsters could be approached by paeodiphiles “within seconds” of logging on to the site, despite the fact that the research behind the article didn’t even use Facebook. Still, the Mail won’t be complaining, it’s the most visited UK newspaper site now.
With Facebook being top dog in the social media world, it’s used as an easy ‘catch-all’ term by headline writers. The results can be more than a little misleading.
So, next time you read a sensational headline about Facebook, remember that there’s most likely nothing but a lazy journalist behind it.
[Image credit: The New Ruffian]