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Culture Beat / Jun. 3, 2019

Twitter Users Dumbed Down

The social-media platform tends toward less-informed rather than more-informed users.

A recently published study performed by a team of Italian researchers concluded that using Twitter negatively impacts an individual’s cognitive abilities. Surprise!

Gian Paolo Barbetta, professor of economic policy at Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan and the study’s lead author, explained, “It’s quite detrimental. I can’t say whether something is changing in the mind, but I can say that something is definitely changing in the behavior and the performance.”

The Washington Post reports the researchers found that “using Twitter reduced performance on [an understanding and comprehension] test by about 25 to 40 percent of a standard deviation from the average result, as the paper explains. Jeff Hancock, the found director of the Stanford Social Media Lab, described these as ‘pretty big effects.’” The Post further noted, “The decline was sharpest among high-achieving students, including women, those born in Italy and those who had scored higher on a baseline test. This find, the paper notes, bolsters the conclusion that blogs and social networking sites actively impair performance, rather than simply failing to augment learning.”

Karen North, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, observed, “It’s the same problem that we have with the level of political discussion. People get 280 characters, and it’s not enough. Without the full background, you’re more likely to be led astray.”

Twitter responded by noting that it’s not in the business of making people smarter.

That may be the understatement of the year, especially when Twitter is suspending people like Erick Erickson for having the “audacity” to poke fun at Elizabeth Warren. He tweeted, “Elizabeth Warren set to introduce the Wrecking American Prosperity Under Marxism, or WAMPUM Act, wherein she gives everything away for free.” For that, he was suspended for “violating our rules against hateful conduct.” It would have been more honest to say that Twitter’s too dumb to understand what he meant.

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