Thursday, June 11, 2015

Should Social Media Be Used as Secondary Sources?

Facebook. Twitter. Tumblr. YouTube. Pinterest. It can be argued that these social networking sites have made life entertaining, simpler, and, in some cases, informative. Individuals, researchers, businesses, and academic institutes venture onto one or more of these sites for a variety of reasons. However, a question has come up in the Thesis and Dissertation Office: Should information found on social media be used in a thesis/dissertation?

If you were to consult the new-ish page on our office website labeled Documentation Styles, you would come across the how-to-cite-social-media link. This is a graphic that explains how to properly document social media in your thesis/dissertation. Providing said graphic might imply that the NIU Thesis and Dissertation Office endorses the use of social media as a form of credible secondary research. But it's not that simple.

According to a survey conducted in 2014, the Pew Research Center reports that 52% of adults who go online have accounts with two or more social media sites, Facebook being the most popular. Seventy percent of Facebook users and 36% of Twitter users check their accounts daily (click here to review data).  In 2015 it was reported that thanks to the ubiquity of Smartphones, 92% of teens go online daily while 24% report being online “almost constantly” (click here to review data). Earlier this week, it was discovered that 61% of the Millenial generation go to Facebook for news as opposed to watching local news programs on television (click here to review study).

You may be wondering, What does any of this have to do with me or with my field of research? For those of you pursuing degrees in the sciences, it’s been reported that 47% of scientists affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) “use social media to talk about science or read about scientific developments.” Further, 19% of AAAS scientists follow the blogs and 12% follow the tweets of various experts in their fields (click here to review report). In other words, the professional community relies on information that is disseminated digitally. As reported in the science journal Nature, there are even sites like ResearchGate and that are exclusively for researchers and whose goal is to promote collaboration, peer review, and to share advances in respective fields (click here to read article). 

All of this begs the question: If relying on social media is good enough for the professional community, why is there is a stigma associated with citing a piece of research from Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, or Twitter on one’s thesis/dissertation?

Here is the (tentative) conclusion that we arrived at in the office: Is the information found via social media reliable? Has the author taken the time to assess the content in order to determine its legitimacy and overall value to the thesis/dissertation? In the end, this is what matters most. 

Given the amount of time people spend on, the individuals using, and the motivation behind relying on social media, it can be argued that future generations of graduate students may come to depend more and more on social media when searching for secondary materials. In time, these sites will accrue so much information that they will become general studies databases or even subject-specific databases in their own right, thereby eliminating any stigma an author might experience when identifying a source on his or her references page as having come from social media.

Then again, in spite of my beliefs concerning social media, all of the research that I have used in my dissertation thus far has been copies from professional journals or tracked down in the stacks in Founders Library. I don’t know why, but I just can’t bring myself to cite a blog or rely on a Facebook post for research even though I know that they exist. Maybe the stigma regarding the use of social media in my dissertation is all in my head.

Please feel free to share any comments you might have about this topic on our blog or Facebook page. 

By the way, if you’re interested in a laugh, try reading a series of ridiculous tweets about possible humanities dissertations on The New Yorker website (click here).

No comments:

Post a Comment