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Fresh research from America confirms that online social networks are in fact playthings of the devil. Ohio profs say that use of Facebook leads to lower college grades, and others in California have found that Twitter gradually renders its users' moral compasses untrustworthy.

First up comes Aryn Karpinski of Ohio State Uni, with the news that Facebook users (at least those in her survey) are lazy, self-deluding thickies.

"There's a disconnect between students' claim that Facebook use doesn't impact their studies, and our finding showing they had lower grades and spent less time studying," says Karpinski.

The PhD candidate collaborated with Adam Duberstein of Ohio Dominican Uni, surveying 219 students at Ohio State. These included 102 undergraduate students and 117 graduate students. Of the participants, 148 said they had a Facebook account. Some 85 percent of undergraduates were Facebook users, while only 52 percent of graduate students had accounts.

The Facebook users had grade point averages (GPAs) between 3.0 and 3.5 (in other words getting more Bs than As), while non-users averaged between 3.5 and 4.0 (more As than Bs)*.

Also, "students who spent more time working at paid jobs were less likely to use Facebook," according to Ohio State.

"There may be other factors involved, such as personality traits, that link Facebook use and lower grades," adds Karpinski, who doesn't have a Facebook account herself.

"It may be that if it wasn't for Facebook, some students would still find other ways to avoid studying, and would still get lower grades. But perhaps the lower GPAs could actually be because students are spending too much time socializing online."

Meanwhile, neuroscientists at the University of Southern California (USC) have suggested that too much use "rapid-fire media" - specifically, Twitter - "may confuse your moral compass".

"Lasting compassion in relationship to psychological suffering requires a level of persistent, emotional attention," says Manuel Castells, holder of the Wallis Annenberg Chair of Communication Technology and Society at USC.

It seems that USC neuro-boffins hooked people up to brain monitoring gear and measured their responses to stories told in different ways about different subjects.

According to the USC statement:

The study raises questions about the emotional cost — particularly for the developing brain — of heavy reliance on a rapid stream of news snippets obtained through television, online feeds or social networks such as Twitter.

"If things are happening too fast, you may not ever fully experience emotions about other people's psychological states and that would have implications for your morality," says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, prof at USC's Brain and Creativity Institute.

The USC researchers seem to suggest that learning things mainly through a constant stream of short, depersonalised info-nuggs will restrict a person's ability to empathise with the people in the stories being told - to admire them, feel their pain or whatever.

Essentially, over-heavy Twitter use will make you cold, cynical and facile - ultimately leaving you heartless and dead inside.

"Indifference to the vision of human suffering gradually sets in," says Castells.

There's more from Ohio on Facebook making you thick/appealing primarily to lazy thickies here, and from California on Twitter making you dead inside/appealing primarily to the facile and amoral here. ®

Bootnote

*Most US grade point scoring systems award 4 for each A, 3 for each B etc. If you get nothing but As, you achieve a 4.0 "perfect" grade point average or GPA. However, some institutions and organisations will give more than four points for A+, and others use different systems entirely, so as usual it isn't entirely simple.

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