Can Facebook Make You Flunk? Not Likely

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A new study claims that logging onto Facebook can drop college students' GPAs and put them at risk of failing. But read between the lines: the study is dubious.

According to the study, which was conducted by doctoral candidate Aryn Karpinski of Ohio State University and her co-author Adam Duberstein of Ohio Dominican University, frequent Facebook users typically spend less time studying and receive lower GPA scores than students who do not use the service at all. Among the 219 students surveyed, non-users had GPAs between 3.5 and 4.0, while users received 3.0 to 3.5 GPAs. It also found that users averaged 1 to 5 hours of studying per week, compared to 11 to 15 hours of studying by non-users.

This was the first study to ever probe the relationship between grades and use of Facebook.

Immediately following the release of the study, major news outlets posted flashy headlines saying Facebook Students Get Lower Grades. But look again at the original study. Karpinski herself says -- twice -- that use of Facebook does not necessarily lead to lower grades and less studying. "There may be other factors involved, such as personality traits, that link Facebook use and lower grades," Karpinski says.

What the study concludes is that there may be a correlation between how Facebook impacts studies and how students believe Facebook impacts studies.

You should also remember that this is the first study of its kind, that it was limited to one university, and that it surveyed only 219 students. To generate any broad-ranging claim based on such a small collection of data is rash.

If we are to believe this study, we should also believe the opposite: Surfing the Internet for fun during office hours increases worker productivity. According to a University of Melbourne study of 300 workers, you can tweet, watch YouTube, and update Facebook in short, unobtrusive breaks, and you'll be a better employee for it. So why wouldn't the same apply to students? Because these studies are both too small to make any true judgment calls.

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