Techies Grapple With Facebook-Syphilis Connection

Can social networking ever do wrong?

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Tech bloggers adore social media. So when Twitter, Facebook, or sundry other social media come under fire from the mainstream press, they tend to circle the wagons and defend vigorously. Yesterday, a number of British newspapers reported on a link between Facebook and syphilis. Health experts in Britain found that in areas where Facebook is most popular, rates of syphilis increased fourfold. They came to the debatable conclusion that Facebook helps young people engage in casual sex. The reports caused a rift in the tech blogging world, with some dismissing the news. These writers homed in on flaws in the reporting about the study. Others accepted it, saying this proves the real-world power of social networking, for good or ill.

  • Classic Luddite Argument, sneers Matthew Ingram at Gigaom: "'Going viral' has never been a more appropriate metaphor... It seems to be human nature to take whatever new social behavior or technology happens to be popular and associate that with everything bad that occurs — even if those bad things have been happening forever."
  • So Many Problems With This Conclusion, writes Jason Kincaid at TechCrunch: "For one, the articles in question say that the number of Syphilis infections in the English town of Teesside has grown to a whopping thirty cases in 2009 (up from a mere ten cases the previous year). Sure, that’s a big jump percentage-wise, but the small sample size and the complete lack of details about any of these studies makes the conclusion that Facebook can somehow be linked to Syphilis extremely dubious...This sounds more like an observation based on a small number of cases rather than an established trend, and it doesn’t say anything about causation."
  • Actually the Study Makes a Modest Point, writes Michael Kulrfeld at The Next Web: "Now Facebook won’t sneak into your room at night and inject you with Syphilis, but the data is sensible in a way: people on social networks sometimes use them to find casual sex. And unprotected casual sex is a fantastic way of getting an STD. So just think of Facebook as a vector to a vector."
  • It's Not an Absurd Idea, writes the social media-friendly blogger Jennifer Van Grove at Mashable:  "With 400 million members now spanning the world, it does make sense that more hookups would happen with Facebook as the facilitator and go-between."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.