Socialization is a primary aspect of an individual’s life and development, and has been promoted through the advent of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, which allow users to communicate with one another. Social media use is particularly noticeable among teenagers and young adults, where social and academic exchanges are prominent. It is, therefore, of primary importance for society to inquire about the consequences it has on the development of forthcoming generations. Because the institution of education is essential to youth development in contemporary society, this paper looks at the effects of social media on the undergraduate society to evaluate whether the phenomenon has had positive or negative effects in the academic performance (GPA and time spent on curricular material) of university undergraduates, who consist of a large portion of Facebook users. In order to determine these outcomes, we look at conflicting data from multiple researches, which provide different results and arguments regarding the issue and deduce that no definite theorem can be made regarding the relationship between Facebook use and academic performance because of the overwhelming amount of results, probably a consequence of research methods and uncontrolled variables. This paper also suggests that the negative relationship observed between Facebook use and academic performance by some researchers may be due to cognitive overload—a result of multi-tasking—as opposed to Facebook use itself.
Studies by Pasek at al. show that Facebook use does not affect the academic performance of university undergraduates. Pasek et al. used a multipronged approach for interrogating three different groups using three different methods for their study: a cross-sectional sample of 1,000 undergraduates from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), a group of 14 to 22 year olds from the National Annenberg Survey of Youth (NASY) where a “random digit dialing method was used,” and a “longitudinal study involving the same 415 respondents from the second study and 835 new respondents” (Syarif Husin et al. 591; Davis III et al. 11-2). Looking at the relationship between Facebook use and academic performance, the cross-sectional sample did not show a negative relationship, while the NASY sample showed a positive correlation, and the longitudinal study showed a weak negative relationship (Syarif Husin et al. 593-4). The researchers concluded that the negative relationship may have been due to the inaccuracy of the longitudinal study and therefore concluded that there is no negative relationship between Facebook use and academic performance.
Syarif Husin et al. also conducted a cross-sectional study on 81 students at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Kebangsaan Malaysia using a “universal sampling method” (592). The subjects were asked questions regarding their current cumulative grade point averages (CGPA) and the average amount of time spent on self-study and Facebook, as well as the Internet in general, per week (592). The results showed no relationship between Facebook use and CGPA.
The work by these two sets of researchers stand in direct opposition to that of Stollak at al., which argues that Facebook use and academic performance are negatively related. This kind of argument stems from the idea that students reach academic goals through persistent time and effort, so if a portion of that time and effort is allocated to social media use, students are held back from attaining those goals; as Chickering and Gamson state: “time plus energy equals learning” (Junco, Reynol).
Stollak at al. made use of an online questionnaire, which was emailed to “all students at a small Arts college in the Midwest, USA” (Syarif Husin et al. 594). The results obtained stated that generally students who spent 61-90 minutes a day on Facebook had a GPA below 2.5, while those who spent 46-60 minutes a day on Facebook had a GPA between 3.0-3.5, and those who spent 31-45 minutes a day had a GPA of 3.5 and above (Syarif Husin et al. 594). Therefore, the more time spent on Facebook equaled lower GPA.
Reynol Junco took an extra step in his analysis of Facebook use’s effect on academic performance by breaking down the multiple activities one could engage in on Facebook and looking at their effects on academic performance (Davis III et al. 14-15). Employing 1,839 students, he found that, generally, sharing and gathering information (such as sharing links and keeping up with friends’ activities) was positively related to GPA while self-promoting or entertainment-seeking practices (such as status updates, posting pictures, using chat, and playing games) were negatively related to GPA (Junco 192).
For clarification purposes, Junco divided the two generalities into two terms: “FBCheck” versus “FBTime;” the former referred to sharing and gathering information practices which did not require much time and effort while the latter referred to self-promotional or entertainment-seeking practices which did require more time and effort (185-186). His analysis of time spent on Facebook versus checking Facebook stands in correlation with the statement of Chickering and Gamson, and is supported by research of Stollak at al. His analysis also indirectly correlates with the works of Pasek et al. and Syarif Husin et al. in the sense that he does not blame Facebook use itself for lowering academic performance.
Evidently, there is great disparity in the results obtained from the studies that investigated this research question and there are multiple reasons for why that may be. These reasons include, amongst others, inadequate amounts of samples analyzed and research done on the subject due to Facebook’s novelty, and inadequate control variables and/or research methods (Pasek et al.; Junco 197-198).
Facebook’s novelty puts a limitation on the amount of research that has been or could have been done regarding it and its effects. Although it has been around for almost a decade, it is only in recent years that it has grown exponentially in number of users, thus Facebook use’s effect on academic performance would be more thoroughly investigated over time as more samples are analyzed by more researchers.
The studies would have also been more thorough had all researchers considered control variables such as social location (gender, sex, race, economic status, and sexuality) (Pasek et al.). Doing so would narrow the results to the effects of Facebook use and grades. Additionally, as different researchers used different methods to carry out their study, one could question the reliability of their methods, particularly because most of them employed self-reporting measures.
The lack of consensus regarding Facebook use and grades suggests that within Facebook use, there may be another factor at work that is taking away from students’ academic performance. Junco suggests that not Facebook use itself, but rather multitasking—using Facebook while engaging in academic work—is the cause of the negative relationship analyzed between Facebook use and academic performance (Junco 197). This suggestion is further examined by Kirschner and Karpinski, who performed a study that shows that using Facebook while doing academic work is detrimental to a student’s academic performance.
Kirschner and Karpinski conducted a study that looked 102 undergraduate students at a large, public Midwestern university in the United States and used control variables for sex, age, and ethnicity (1241). They employed a questionnaire that asked questions regarding not only Facebook use and academic history, but also general Internet use and habits. Their results showed that the “average” Facebook user spent 1-5 hours studying per week and reaped a GPA of 3.0-3.5 while the non-Facebook user spent 11-15 hours studying per week and reaped a GPA of 3.5-4.0 (Syarif Husin et al. 593). These results correlate with those of Stollak et al. as they show that as students spent more time on Facebook and less time on academic work, their academic performance suffered, as predicted by Chickering and Gamson.
However, Kirschner and Karpinski’s results also showed that the total time spent on the Internet did not differ between Facebook users and non-Facebook users, while the former admitted using Facebook while doing academic work far more than the latter did (1243-1244). This evidence connects to the large empirical literature regarding the negative effects of multitasking, or processing “different streams of information,” which states that multitasking while studying results in more time required for comprehension of the material and increases the probability of making errors while doing or practicing the material (1238). Thus the researchers argue that the negative relationship between Facebook use and academic performance found in their research is probably due to students implementing multiple processes, so using Facebook does not directly cause lower academic performance, unless used in conjunction with academic work.
The indoctrination of social media into the lives of teenagers and young adults is undeniable, which makes it important for society to inquire about its effects in the development of tomorrow’s leaders. This paper illustrated the work of multiple researchers who looked at the effects of Facebook—the largest social media platform—on the academic performance of university undergraduates and concludes that, given the disparity of results from these researchers, a single argument cannot be made in regards to the relationship between Facebook use and academic performance but suggests the negative relationship observed by some researchers may be because of multi-taking, which results in cognitive overload and thus lower efficiency in curricular engagement. Given these studies, schools, universities and such educational institutions should seek to educate their students regarding the detrimental nature of multitasking while performing academic work. Perhaps the promotion of adds, such as “SelfControl,” whose purpose is to block distracting websites for whatever amount of time required would allow users to focus on whatever task at hand, develop healthy study habits, and thus promote academic performance. Researchers examining the relationship between Facebook use and academic performance, on the other hand, should look at the social network’s effect on the long run and consider more control variables in order to provide students and educational institutions with a more adequate response to the question.