Facebook may not trash your grades

EVANSTON, ILLINOIS – Parents of Facebook-addicted kids should be able to rest a little easier – it may not be damaging their school grades after all.

A month ago, we reported on a study from Ohio State University, which suggested that Facebook use was associated with poorer grades – the more students used the social networking site, the less well they performed. But an attempt to replicate those findings has failed to find a robust correlation. Indeed, Facebook usage was actually found to be slightly higher in students with better grades.

“We found no evidence that Facebook use correlates with lower academic achievement,” said Eszter Hargittai, associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern University and a fellow this year at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

Along with Josh Pasek, a doctoral student at Stanford University, Hargittai is co-author of Facebook and Academic Performance: Reconciling a Media Sensation with Data, which appears in the online journal First Monday.

The researchers used relevant information from three existing data sets – a sample of more than 1,000 undergraduates from the University of Illinois, Chicago; a nationally representative cross sectional sample of 14- to 22-year-olds; and a nationally representative longitudinal panel of American youth aged 14- to 23. They were unable to detect a significant negative relationship between grade point averages and Facebook use.

“I suspect that basic Facebook use – what these studies measure – simply doesn’t have generalizable consequences for grades,” said Hargittai, whose research explores the social and policy implications of the web.

The authors see a parallel to concerns over earlier new media such as the television and PC use, which have largely proved unfounded.

“The Internet and social networking sites in particular can be used in many ways, some of which may be beneficial to the user and others less so. More important than whether people use these sites is what they do on them,” said Hargittai. “Cultivating relationships, for example, can lead to positive outcomes.”

Hargittai concedes that banging on about your every activity, all day, every day, must sometimes get in the way of boring stuff like studying.

“If students are spending excessive time on Facebook at the expense of studying, their academic performance may suffer, just as it might by spending excessive time on another activity,” Hargittai said.