“What will we learn from the fall of Facebook?” is the question asked by Daniel Miller, professor of material culture at University College London, in a blog on the university’s Social Networking Sites and Social Science Research Project website.
“The ‘Fall of Facebook’ seems an odd title, given this is a social media platform that continues to expand worldwide. Yet there is no doubt that we can and should be commenting on its demise at least for some [people],” he continues, making reference specifically to sixth-formers at colleges in North London.
“For this group, Facebook is not just falling, it is basically dead, finished, kaput, over.”
The blog, published in November, outlines some of the initial findings made by Professor Miller during UK-based fieldwork for his research for the Global Social Media Impact Study – an EU-funded project that involves a team of nine anthropologists in eight countries, spending 15 months collecting data on the use and consequences of social media.
Towards the end of last month, the story of Facebook’s potential demise was picked up by a range of news outlets, including the BBC and The Daily Telegraph after an article ostensibly penned by Professor Miller for The Conversation website discussed these initial findings.
“What does 2014 hold for your online life? If you’re young, it probably won’t involve Facebook that much,” his article says.
However, after the story went viral, Professor Miller penned a second blog on the UCL site to clarify the rationale behind his claims, and to query the way they had been represented in the media.
“If you saw the NBC report on my work, it implies that my findings also reflect trends in the US,” he says, despite the fieldwork taking place only in one area of North London.
He also states that the article in The Conversation was an adaptation of his original blog “re-written by a journalist”.
“The journalist gave me the opportunity to review her version, which I checked for factual errors.
“But, mea culpa, I realise now that I left in elements in her version that perhaps over-simplified the original,” Professor Miller says.
“Allowing your work to be ‘sexed up’ seems to be a compromise academics will have to accept” if they want their work to reach as wide an audience as possible, he adds.
The episode led to a great deal of discussion among academics on Twitter. Christopher Anderson (@chanders), assistant professor of media culture at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York, said that Professor Miller’s second blog “should be read by all journalists who report on ideas, but also all 1st yr PhD students”.
Antonio A. Casilli (@bodyspacesoc), associate professor in digital humanities at Telecom ParisTech, described the blog as “a display of academic integrity” in the face of media claims about the death of Facebook.
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