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
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 Academia.edu 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
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).