the granfalloon of social media

If you wish to study a granfalloon, just remove the skin of a toy balloon— Bokonon
Social media. The term is empty, does not have real meaning. It is a trap, a slippery eel. In the undying words of Kurt Vonnegut; it is a granfalloon. The question to ask is, as always, does anyone earn money on it?

The researcher that wrote the book on media we used in my digital media bachelor, tweeted an article from Discovery News via ABC a while back. Apparently, a bunch of other researchers in USA have researched Facebook, using it as a tool for personality analysis – or more popular term; personality test. They state some depressingly obvious things, but elegantly jump to what I will describe as utter loony-off-their-trolleys conclusions. And no-one bats an eyelid.

They use the methods and categories of sociology (I will not say “traditionally used in..”, as this lends it an air of antiquity which it does not deserve or merit), and from the information people give about themselves, they test if that is consistent with other personality tests. Apparently. Apart from the fact that I suspect a lot of personality tests are utter rubbish, this seems a little scientifically thin to me. “Sociology Mickey-Mouse-science looks through tech”. Nevermind. Let me quote a conclution from ABC’s article:

“The researchers also found that people with long last names tended to be more neurotic, perhaps because “a lifetime of having one’s long last name misspelled may lead to a person expressing more anxiety and quickness to anger,” according to the study, which is being presented this week at the Computer Human Interaction conference in Vancouver.”

Read that again. We take these people seriously? We pay them? We let them play in their labs for this? They spend electricity, occupy space as they come up with this? I find a lot of sociology methodology highly questionable, but this is bonkers. Hot air conjured up from hot air. Oh, wait, .. duh. I actually checked the publish date on this article, to be absolutely sure it was not an aprils fool.

But the rant does not end there. The guy who tweeted, whose books was on my curriculum, is the guy the media calls when they need a “social media expert” (how the meta-levels on this works is mind-boggling). I tweeted back to him, asking if he seriously thought that people with long surnames are more neurotic than others? His disturbing answer was “science has spoken!”

As I said, it is a granfalloon.

Maybe I got it all wrong. Maybe this is an endlessly intelligent study, a wonderfully insightful paper and wondrous presentations. If so, the journalist at Discovery News should find something else to do. Communication: it is so hard that not even journalists and communication media PhD’ers can do it.