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Facebook has taken a beating in the media over the last few years for what three studies have found to be the dire toll it takes on the academic lives of students. The most frequently cited of these studies, from Ohio State University in 2009, found that Facebook users often had GPAs up to one full point lower than non-users. The publication of this study caused a brief media whirlwind, as outlets from MSNBC to Time published stories on the study with sensational headlines, drawing dramatic conclusions.
But it turns out that none of these studies of Facebook's impact on academics, including the OSU study, has been rigorous enough to draw the conclusions that the media has drawn. The OSU study, for instance, surveyed just 219 students - a relatively small sample size. The other two studies used comparable samples. Further, these studies used simplistic models of what it meant to actually 'visit Facebook,' usually just looking at overall time spent on the site per day. The results were significant, sure, and as the first studies in a very new field, they were doing the good work of breaking new ground. But the bad reputation with the media and educators that the studies lent to Facebook use was, in all likelihood, incommensurate with its actual effects on grades. And, worse, there has been no study that contradicts this data at all - until now.
Leading social media researcher Reynold Junco has published a new study on how Facebook affects grades, and it's the most thorough study to date on the topic. Using a sample size of more than two thousand university students, and employing a complex model of Facebook use which broke it down into the individual activities performed on the site, Dr. Junco found that the claim of Facebook's hampering of grades is partially true - but very, very, partially, and even insignificantly. If you use Facebook for many hours a day, a tiny drop in GPA can occur. But very few people can or will use it often enough to make that difference. The real story is that there are bigger effects depending on how you use Facebook - both for good, and for bad. Posting status updates, for example, predicts grades negatively. But checking up on friends and sharing links with others actually positively predicted grades. Yes, you heard that right - Facebook may actually be good for grades, depending on how you use it. Dr. Junco collaborated with us on this infographic, the very first to present this game-changing data.