The dangers of twitter? 3

One of our college paper reporters interviewed me earlier this week for his story on the “dangers” of twittering and social media. The study was reported by CNN (I cannot find the full study to…study) and many have pointed out the irony of that report since news outlets like CNN with their rapid-fire news updates rather than twitter or facebook are the targets of the study. I am convinced that twitter was cited (note the URL of the CNN story) purely because of the attention this srevice currently garners. You can assess my views for yourself:

Posted on May 1, 2009 4:53 AM

Study says Twitter, Facebook affect morality

Using social networking sites that produce information rapidly such as Twitter and Facebook may have negative effects on a user’s morality, scientists say.

A new study released last week by scientists from the University of Southern California found that by using these sites, a person’s brain can not process the information quickly enough to invoke an emotional response, making them amoral over time. In effect, users will be desensitized, the study found.

Dean of Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College Chris Brady, who is a user, said the study isn’t wrong to think that people today receive information swiftly.

“I certainly think information comes in too rapidly or too quickly so we’re not able to reflect,” Brady said. “There’s too much information to assimilate and go through so we become less thoughtful when we’re required to make a decision.”

He doesn’t, however, find social networking sites as dangerous as the study does.

“I don’t think sites like Twitter are inherently bad for anyone,” Brady said. “It’s just a tool like anything else.”

Brady said he believes that social networking sites such as Twitter are helpful information tools he uses to communicate with others. He also believes scientists and news networks are pointing out Twitter specifically because it is the hot commodity right now.

“I remember they said e-mail was bad for people and would destroy relationships when it first started,” Brady said. “Any of these tools or services can be abused this way.”

Penn State student April Foster, who also uses Twitter, agrees the study is questionable.

“I don’t understand how it can make you amoral,” Foster (sophomore-psychology) said. “If I saw my friend posted something sad, I wouldn’t just disregard it. I would call them.”

However, while Foster agrees using the site can be “overwhelming” and “annoying,” the study would not stop her from using it, she said.

Emily Toombs, a Penn State student that normally “tweets” every day, says she believes people do need time to reflect after reading about something new.

“I agree it takes time to develop the appropriate emotion,” Toombs (sophomore- communications arts and sciences and English) said. “But I don’t know people who update that frequently — don’t think it’s as simultaneous as it’s made out to be.”

For Brady, who admitted to having more than 4,500 tweets total on one of his accounts, Twitter is a new medium that has a lot of potential for communication and information — so long as it is used with caution.

“We don’t need to spend our lives using the site,” Brady said. “We just need to control ourselves and make sure we don’t respond to everything that happens. Doing that gets us excited and into this mode where we aren’t really thinking anymore.”


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

3 thoughts on “The dangers of twitter?

  • Nathan Rein

    The authors of the original study, which can be found at PNAS (, would probably agree with you, I’m guessing. The study doesn’t mention Twitter, Facebook, or in fact anything other than the study’s stated subject (i.e., neural correlates of social emotions, including some discussion of timing). It seems that the link to Twitter and so forth comes mainly from USC’s publicist and the comments of another scientist, one not involved with the original research, who is quoted in the USC press release ( Here’s something from the release:

    “Immordino-Yang did not blame digital media. ‘It’s not about what tools you have, it’s about how you use those tools,’ she said. Castells said he was less concerned about online social spaces, some of which can provide opportunities for reflection, than about ‘fast-moving television or virtual games.’ ‘In a media culture in which violence and suffering becomes an endless show, be it in fiction or in infotainment, indifference to the vision of human suffering gradually sets in,’ he said. Damasio agreed: ‘What I’m more worried about is what is happening in the (abrupt) juxtapositions that you find, for example, in the news.”

    (Immordino-Yang is one of the study’s authors; Castells is not.)