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Chasing social media shares harms public trust in science – so stop it

Jul 2nd, 2017 by

Not all research is created equal. There needs to be more clarity in the media about where study findings have come from

Last month US TV channel CNBC published an online news story based on a study which it said showed that Instagram is “most likely to cause young people to feel depressed and lonely” out of the major social apps. But the “study” is actually a survey which fails to provide substantive evidence that Instagram is the worst for mental health, or that there is even a relationship between social media use and depression or loneliness. It was another enticing – but misleading – headline.

Over the next days the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), which published the report in conjunction with the Young Health Movement charity, retweeted and shared news stories like CNBC’s. The society’s report was featured by most national media outlets, and although some pointed out that it was based on a survey, others presented it in a way that could be construed as scientific research. In any case, most included a statement about Instagram being damaging to mental health in the title in a way that made the findings appear more conclusive than the report suggests.

Related: Why we can’t trust academic journals to tell the scientific truth

Related: It’s time for academics to take back control of research journals

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