My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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Favorite myth-making news articles?

The book that I’m writing is focused on myths that we have about teens and social media. I’m trying to find some good quotes from news media that perpetuate these myths and I’m hoping that you might be able to help. The more salacious and outraged, the better.  I’m looking for articles in mainstream venues that talk about all of the reasons in which social media is bad, bad, bad.  What are your favorite news articles that reinforce these widespread beliefs?

  • Myth #1: The digital is separate from the “real” world.
  • Myth #2: Social media makes kids deceptive.
  • Myth #3: Social media is addictive.
  • Myth #4: Kids don’t care about privacy.
  • Myth #5: The Internet is a dangerous, dangerous place.
  • Myth #6: There’s nothing educational about social media.
  • Myth #7: Kids are digital natives.
  • Myth #8: The Internet is the great equalizer.

….

Before you ask… These are indeed the rough ideas that my book is organized around.  I’m not settled on any of the phrasings so if you’ve got feedback, I’m all ears.  I’m not yet ready to publicly describe what’s in each chapter but the structure is pretty simple.  I start with a widespread belief and then I use my data to complicate it, highlighting both why we have these myths and why they are focused on the wrong issues.  Hopefully it’ll be a fun read for everyone. <grin>

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45 comments to Favorite myth-making news articles?

  • Myth 3- HuffPost article re: UMaryland study

  • Danah:

    Great book topic. I’ve read plenty of articles that imply all these ideas, but I don’t have any handy. The next time I come across a good one, I’ll share. But, first, I have a question. What are the criteria by which you are labeling these ideas “myths”? The possibility of social media addiction, for example, seems plausible to me. Do you have any resources, web sites, or books you can recommend that debunk these ideas? I’d love to refer to them.

    Thanks.

    Jill

  • Here are a few good ones.

    Social networking has hidden dangers for teens
    http://articles.sfgate.com/2009-08-10/news/17175229_1_social-networking-sites-social-networking-teens
    SFGate.com
    August 10, 2009

    Protect your kids from social media dangers
    (this one seems more like an advertorial than an article)
    http://blogs.pcmag.com/securitywatch/2010/09/protect_your_kids_from_social.php
    PCMag.com Blogs
    September 8, 2010

  • Colin Burke

    was reminded of this recently. the poll about older people preferring bad news and really like to hear/watch/read bad news about young people.

    Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee on Twitter:
    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-march-2-2009/twitter-frenzy

    I think it fits many of the myths.

  • Jill – the entire book is about complicating them so hopefully my book will be the one that I’d recommend. Addiction is an interesting one. I start by talking about the history of misusing the DSM term, unpacking what we mean when we talk about addiction and why this metaphor is problematic even if we’re talking about overuse. I then talk about what drives youth to participate in social media, arguing that if we want to use “addiction” as a reference, what they’re addicted to is their friends (not the technology). I use this to talk about what they gain from deep involvement.

  • Danah: THAT SOUNDS FASCINATING. I can’t wait to read your book.

  • “Facebook sells user data” — a RWW lead writer and several academics spent an hour discussing that on the French equivalent of NPR… I don’t think you get any more serious than that without peer review.
    With an extension: ads are trying to force upon you an evil so great that it isn’t already at WalMart on at the mall.

    That kids are more likely to meet predators on-line, that those are harder to catch on social media because they are all crafty, that monitoring and censoring traffic will help catch them… (To replace “bad, bad, bad”, or rather to put between each chorus — I’m all for lullaby rhymes, but it always took long to put to sleep.)

    That (most) 15-yo would be shocked in someone made inappropriate comment or exposed their genitals to them on-line — or even more surprising, that they would be tempted enough to act on it.

    I’m not sure about the “addicted to their friends, not the technology” part: I see what you mean, but most people my age (young professionals, dating, no kids) reacting to Facebook said they wanted to get off their screen to get out… And sort of anything on TV, that’s pretty much it: out or Facebook. I guess the technology pushes them towards clueless discussions, prank groups, friends of friends, while they could call a close friend and spend the evening talking. I would sponsor such a tech, especially towards female users, but they leave long sessions on the site with a feeling of emptiness.

  • Ruth

    I thought I couldn’t love you more than I do already, but please get this book published ASAP so I can give it everyone I know. I’m twenty-one and I still have arguments over these issues – with people my own age! Not to mention my parents, with whom I’ve been trying to dissuade of these myths for about 8 years. Probably the most obvious example of #4: “Facebook’s Zuckerburg Says the Age of Privacy is Over” ReadWriteWeb. http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/facebooks_zuckerberg_says_the_age_of_privacy_is_ov.php I try to avoid the ignorance whenever possible so I can’t find anything else in my bookmarks right now, but good luck.

  • Simone

    This article reports on a survey in that concludes that most parents think social networking is making their kids dumber http://www.news.com.au/technology/social-media-sites-like-facebook-twitter-making-kids-dumber-parents-believe/story-e6frfro0-1225893411901

    Not a news article, but Andrew Keen’s book ‘the cult of the amateur’ perpetuates the ideas that the internet is bad and dangerous. There is a really melodramatic section where he uses an example of a US college kid who became addicted to online gambling and then robbed a bank, to draw a conclusion of what a bad influence the internet is, particularly for teenagers and young adults.

  • Your topic reminded me of a something I retweeted a few days ago.

    RT @CBCNews: Students who use Facebook while studying [...]20 per cent lower on exams than those who do not, a… http://fb.me/HiHAsyTQ

    I thought it was particularly ironic that the link was to a facebook comment page that then linked to the cbc article itself.

  • See Ben Goldacre’s site which regularly debunks all sorts of claims that are not based on scientific evidence http://www.badscience.net/category/aric-sigman/

  • My favourite: “Facebook and Bebo risk ‘infantilising’ the human mind” from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/feb/24/social-networking-site-changing-childrens-brains

    It consists of opinions of “Baroness Greenfield”, who happens to be a scientist (her speciality is the physiology of the brain, she works on Parkinsons disease and Alzheimer’s disease).

    In the text she is introduced as “professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln college, Oxford”. And then it goes: a long list of her fears with no single reference to any scientific study of the topic, just opinions. Moreover, what she says is far from her field of study; she speaks rather as a psychologist.

    Terrible article.

    Best of luck,
    W.

  • Simber

    Are you looking for American sources or could international articles be of use aswell? I might find some things from the European press for you, but not always in English ;-)

  • Mashable: “Don’t Get Robbed: Burglars Use Facebook to Pick Targets”
    http://mashable.com/2010/09/11/facebook-places-burglars/

  • I hate to be the one to crash the party, but I think some of these originate (at least indirectly) in academia. Of course once a study or piece of research is published it is always liable to be reduced to a set of absurd claims by journalists hungry for a headline, but nevertheless the underlying tone can be found in often cited classics of internet scholarship. The first two, for example, are almost certainly in “life on screen”. I would go as far as to say that it was not until relatively recently that researchers (in a broad sense — this still persists in certain fields) ditched the idea that the internet is a separate arena for social interaction. The second one about ‘deception’ is perhaps less easy to find in life on screen, but I think you would agree there is an emphasis in the writing (as there has sometimes been in your own) on the ‘duplicitous’ potential of online identity-play. Perhaps this wasn’t what you had in mind with this point, but it was what leapt out at me when I read it.

    Myth 8 alludes to a certain utopianist perspective about the internet which I’m sure you recall was quite prevalent in early theorising around the implications of a ‘network society’ (global political movements for justice, freedom from oppression in everyday life, the potential for ‘free’ education for all, and again Turkle’s work on the ‘therapeutic’ potential of role-play in MUDs). In my experience, this utopianism is far more prevalent in academic circles than in the media, who as you rightly point out are far more interested in making things seem scary and out of control.

    On the subject of the digital natives ‘myth’, I think it is important to point out that by definition kids *are* digital natives – after all, they didn’t exist before ubiquitous social media, which is surely Prensky’s core definition. The real myth is that this context somehow gives them special technological powers/makes them unable to learn in traditional ways/lets them do other creepy things. I agree that a decade after it was coined the term seems clumsy and implies abilities which aren’t necessarily there, but let’s not be hasty! Are there generationally bounded patterns of media use and online social activity? Almost certainly.

    The rest of them are however, totally fictitious, and I wish you luck in slaying them. :)

    I’d be interested to hear what anyone thinks of the above points.

  • Simber – For the book, I’m mostly looking for American sources. But in general, I love seeing crazy stories around the world.

    Joshua – You are definitely right about the origins of some of these. Of course, that doesn’t stop the media from perpetuating them and turning them into a widespread view.

  • Danah,

    do Nicholas Carr’s delinkification controversy & Andrew Keen’s arguments on limitations & dangers of the web belong to the mythical scope of your upcoming book ?

  • Joshua, can you refer me to any academic research about “real life” vs. online interaction? You mentioned Sherry Turkle. I’ll start by reading her work. Any others? Thanks. I’m beginning a master’s in media psychology and I need all the resources I can get.

  • Sounds great. For the real/virtual distinction I wouldn’t start with a news article, but with Sherry Turkle and her work about MMOs etc. (And only now I see that all I do is to second Joshua just above).

  • Joshua

    Jill: As far as I am aware, there are few studies which compare the two explicitly (which set out to make explicit behavioural comparisons). Indeed, this is something I am currently attempting to address in my own research which compares quantitative data about social network structure and qualitative data about the subjective understanding of young people about the context (technologically facilitated or otherwise) for interaction.

    I suppose the other ‘classic’ text similar to Turkle’s is Rheingold’s “Virtual Communities”, but once again (as is the case with “Life on Screen”) it is not necessarily that useful except as a historical reference, as it contains the ‘myth’ of digital being fundamentally different. He nevertheless makes some really interesting points, and does compare offline and online IIRC.

    One paper of note which aims to begin to quantify behavioural differences across offline and online settings is Bernie Hogan’s work “comparing offline and online social networks using the facebook API”: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1331029. Not exactly what you are looking for (and by his own admission not fully developed) but interesting and thought provoking. A forewarning: it will start you on a maddening (but exciting!) journey towards formal social network analysis (think graphs, mathematics and reading scarily titled journals!).

    If you are interested in the methodological implications of comparing offline and online interaction, Christine Hine’s Virtual Ethnography is still relevant and worth a look as she uses the creation of a ‘virtual’ methodology as an exercise in questioning the broad relationship between analytic practice and the culture to be studied.

    There are of course many sources of implicit comparison, including danah’s own work on identity and context-collapse. Often what you find is that differences between offline and online interaction are alluded to in the description of online behaviour, but not ever explained ‘linearly’ (which makes sense considering the relationship is rarely, if ever, that straightforward).

    Sorry to not be of much use…I am struggling with the same issues for my own MSc! I’m sure other more able minds will step forth and help us both out…

  • Xavier

    Are you interested in articles (or quotations) in french ?

  • I often post about technophobic articles in the British press in my blog under the unimaginative tag Technophobia, you will find several examples there. My favourite are:
    Coroner launches probe into ‘internet suicide cult’ after SEVEN youngsters in one town hang themselves
    Bebo blamed for 13-year-old boy’s death

    … and my favourite headline of all time:
    Millions of girls using Facebook, Bebo and Myspace ‘at risk’ from paedophiles and bullies

  • This morning in Danish newspaper Politiken there is an article titled (in my translation) “Chat and Twitter may destroy our ability to spell”. I don’t know if you are looking for other myths; if so, “The Internet/Chat/Texting/Social Media destroys our spelling” could be an important one that I am sure is also present in American Media. I recall one on the topic (though with the “myth busting” rather than the “myth” perspective).

  • Danah, so excited to hear about your myth-busting book. Re: myth #1 in particular, you might want to read my recent blog post for Harvard Business on “10 reasons to stop apologizing for your online life”: http://bit.ly/n0s0rry

    I’d be delighted to hear more as you’re knocking these ideas around.

  • Lita

    This NYT article made an impression on me. Ridgewood NJ seems to be the epicenter of all things evil on the web for teenagers, according to the NYT. Also, it made me think about how reluctant parents are to confront other parents over awkward situations–people seem much more comfortable blaming the “web” or “facebook” or “the school” for situations that are created and solved by human relationships.

    http://nyti.ms/ahMxOn

  • I think you could bring a lot from popular culture that feeds paranoia about the internet. Movies like “The Net” and “Hackers” are pretty hysterical on many levels but mostly with what the screenwriters THINK technology can do.

    There are some pretty sensational cases out there that are true. There have been criminals and bullies that use the internet – but they would use any media available. Nigerian scam letters used to come in the mail :-)

  • Yoron

    * Myth #1: The digital is separate from the “real” world. -Nope-

    * Myth #2: Social media makes kids deceptive. – No more than all other ‘double standards’ we use and teach. There will always be ‘deceptiveness’.

    * Myth #3: Social media is addictive. -Absolutely, for a kid as well as grown ups. It’s all a matter of your interest, and Internet supports most-

    * Myth #4: Kids don’t care about privacy. –
    Their brains won’t be developed until around twenty-two to twenty-seven years old. Kids don’t have the same danger perspective as grown ups. They will take greater risks, they will also need a stronger ‘kick’ to react. It’s physical, not psychological, even thought the both goes together in a unholy mix.

    * Myth #5: The Internet is a dangerous, dangerous place. -Sure, if you go to the wrong places. There need to be parents setting limits. But those flash sites for example where you get so called super cookies LSOs downloaded that stays on your hard disk forever watching you? Ain’t they dangerous too? And that private, corporate, as well as other interests using. Take a look here to learn something useful. http://www.devdaily.com/internet/flash-cookies-lso-web-browser-privacy-security-internet that might redefine your ‘personal privacy’. And then download “Better Privacy” for Firefox if you still want flash.

    * Myth #6: There’s nothing educational about social media. –Depends, a good physics site is very educational. Used right a ‘open Internet’ is one of the most valuable assets we have, I use to compare it to the wheel in importance. That will depend on how far commercial interests and state will stake it out of course. Information is power, and data-bases worth gold. China blocks the information, as France. The States on the other habnd try to control the databases, letting the info flow free. Two different aspects to control and power, But no Country can let their hands away from it.

    * Myth #7: Kids are digital natives. — Very savvy, ignorant, ego-tripping digital ‘idiot savants’ mostly :) Well, a little exaggerated. but, no matter if their interest are ‘my little pony’ or hacking :)they will learn, incredibly fast. Have mostly to do with maturity and physiology as I see it. They are easy to get to leave info a grown up would hesitate about as they have a different perspective on what is ‘dangerous’. To tell you that she can’t afford designer-clothes can be deemed as more ‘dangerous’ than to give away her address, name, even cell phone. But it depends on what you find dangerous, kids differ, just as grown ups.

    * Myth #8: The Internet is the great equalizer. – An open Internet yes. But it can lie very well, depending on who’s in control. And even when ‘open’ it can be very insecure in matters of personal information. And kids are easy prey for that.

    Saw that you were a researcher at Microsoft Research, New England?
    What are your research for?

    A book you said?

    Cheers
    Yoron.

  • Yoron

    Saw I left out Myth #1: The digital is separate from the “real” world. – Nope. It’s virtual, but it’s extensions are very real.-

    And Danah, read this, from Wired magazine. http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/08/you-deleted-your-cookies-think-again. It’s more informative than my first link. but I presume that you already know of it, as you already are in the ‘business’, so to speak :)

  • I sense a good read ahead :-)

    It doesn’t actually fit into your schema, but from having been a kid/juvenile myself and from working with kids today, I’d like to share a question: does the internet inspire kids to explore and articulate themselves?

    The question is aimed at an angle of delineation between kids and “old people”, much like they wear different cloths and hear different music (different as in: parents don’t like it/approve of).

    Maybe that falls into the “equalizer” theme …

  • Commit digital suicide:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/world_news_america/8999235.stm

    Some juicy bits:

    “The more time we spend in the digital world, cultivating our online profiles and virtual networks, according to Mr Savicic, the less time we are spending in our real lives communicating with our real friends.”

    “If you are heavily active [on the internet], by disconnecting you are losing a significant relationship. Those 30 or 40 hours of time now have to be filled with real life.”

  • mr pau

    the classic myth has to be the New Yorker Cartoon “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” (wikipedia has a page dedicated to this one cartoon!) It certainly makes a good starting point for discussion.

  • jon

    Just ran into this: Seven ways social networks are ‘evil’, from a security perspective, so naturally thought of this thread …

    can’t wait to see the book, danah!

  • Hoelt

    “# Myth #1: The digital is separate from the “real” world.”

    I had a discussion involving that one recently. I expressed some humor at the fact that there’s somewhat of a digital divide between teenagers and adults– adults use email all the time, while teens tend to use social networking far more often– which can lead to some awkwardness. I expressed that I like email but see it as sort of ‘ghostly’ and ‘empty’ at times, however irrational that sentiment is, because as a teenager I’m far more used to using social networking web sites (but I still use email often). I was then called immature and it was forecasted I would never be able to succeed in the business world because social media is absolutely immature and outside the domain of the business world at all times, while email is the only acceptable/professional way to communicate and will forever be that way. The future generation is screwed and forever-immature for using social media, apparently.

    I’d love to read that book when it comes out. It’d be a good one for the parents.

  • Joshua: Wow! Thank you for the resources. Good luck to you in your studies. Looks like you are well into it. I’d follow you on Twitter or check out your web site if I could.

    Danah: I’m sure you’ve seen this by now today but, in case you haven’t, it’s a Slate article on Twitter addiction. http://www.slate.com/id/2224932/

  • Ken Moir

    A recent post at PsyBlog offers a good digest of studies focused on these issues (and a priceless graphic to illustrate the “addiction” myth): http://www.spring.org.uk/2010/09/4-internet-psychology-myths.php

    Can’t wait to see the book!

  • Jill Elswick

    Woman kills baby for interrupting Farmville session
    http://kotaku.com/5675347/woman-kills-baby-for-interrupting-farmville-session

    Interesting how this news item attributes the baby’s death to her addiction to Farmville and not some other reason. The comments are also interesting, in terms of belief in Internet addiction and its effect on society.

  • Michael Golrick

    Every one has access to the Internet, and therefore government agencies can close satellite offices, and stop sending paper forms.

  • this from steve’s site :

    Anonymous said…
    I just checked out a few youtube videos of danah boyd and she simply doesn’t come across as real intelligent.

    Read her bio and you’ll see that her original dreams of math and then computer science faded when she apparently wasn’t good enough at either to get a phd in them.

    Instead she bailed out into queer studies and banal observations on the present and future of the internet. She’s pretty hot so I can see how she kept getting bumped upwards in academia, especially since she has the modern soft studies academic’s talent of spouting endless intellectual-babble that consists of obvious points expressed with $20 pop catchphrases.

    But you’re not going to learn anything new or interesting from her. Again, though, fairly hot.

    …/…

    Sounds fairly accurate to me.

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