The Princeton researchers comparing Facebook to an infectious disease might seem harsh, but as with a lot of things online, nothing is as grand and sweeping as it seems. Facebook’s response? A lighthearted jab at Princeton as revenge for an academic paper that went viral.
It all started with a very viral friendly statistic; “Facebook will lose 80 percent of users by 2017.” Stories with the statistic in the headline spread like wildfire. The easy little factoid was perfect for anyone that was interested in taking a pot-shot at Facebook. As Gigaom contributor David Meyer points out, the paper was not peer-reviewed and the argument was constructed using the decline of MySpace as a model.
Since MySpace never got even close to the number of users Facebook currently has, the comparison doesn’t really hold water. Facebook also has a very different demographic now, as opposed to the kinds of users that frequented MySpace.
So while the story is bite sized, and it sounds very damning, Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. According to Princeton’s data 200 million active users are going to desert the social network by the end of 2014, which seems unlikely. Just like how Princeton isn’t going to lose its entire student body by 2021, according to Facebook’s dueling data.
That’s the thing about statistics, they’re not hard to generate given the right inputs. Facebook’s data scientists crunched Google trends numbers and created some scary graphs about Princeton losing ground to other universities, and the abandonment of breathable air due to declining interest.
It’s easy for a little intellectual curiosity to run amok when social media gets a hold on a sliver of information. Fact checking could be helpful in debunking stories like this, but more difficult is taking the step to be skeptical enough to bother to check facts at all. Social media moves too fast for logic and reason, especially when the sky is always falling.
Image credit: uwdigitalcollections