More Examples Of Data Spin – Social Networking Addiction

I’ve shared why the concept of social media addiction makes little sense in the past, but it continues to be a popular, if inaccurate label.  I expect that sort of post from Mashable or Social Media Examiner.  They are media outlets and are supposed to frame industry content in a sensationalistic way.  To them, it’s not about accuracy or authority, it’s about pageviews and ReTweets – and you can’t blame them, it’s their business model.

But the other day I saw a link from a pretty trusted source, Steve Rubel, who surprisingly shared more datapoints that don’t actually point to addiction, rather to a general usage trend.  But of course, those who conducted the study wrap it in language that’s stickier, if inaccurate, by slapping the “addiction” label on it.

Let’s first look at the graph without the title, and just the survey question:

Now that’s not very interesting is it?  Just the question and the survey result data presented accurately (surprise surprise, more people are using social networking sites multiple times a day in 2009 when compared with 2008).  How can we make this more interesting if we’re Experian?  Easy – let’s slap the addiction label on there since our society has an addiction to, well, calling everything an addiction without actually understanding it.

Here’s the version they published:

Let’s visually show why this is absurd, by showing another data visualization and doing the same thing:

Now, I’ll add a label to contextualize, even though it wasn’t part of the original image:

Was it wrong I just added TV addiction to that graph?  The average person watches a lot of TV, so I can just add the addiction label, right?  By Experian’s logic, it’s as easy to define something as an addiction as slapping a label on a graph.  No scientific research or consensus among cognitive psychologists needed – just some consumer survey data is rigorous enough.

Of course, if you look at more data points within the same study, you could just as easily draw a conclusion that we’re addicted to keeping in touch with friends:

Two paragraphs of text from the original article packaged with the data mention addiction as well:

Whether it’s keeping in touch with others, playing games, debating politics or any of the other reasons people use social networking sites, it cannot be denied that there’s a sense of addictiveness to it all.

There’s a “sense of addictiveness to it all”  according to Experian, not according to the data.  That is 100% subjective – however when writing it next to their visuals it seems authoritative.

Social networking is an increasingly addictive activity, with nearly half of those who access such sites (43%) reporting that they visit them multiple times per day.

According to this logic, let’s think what else we could call addiction.  After all, we just need to find things that around half of survey responded do multiple times daily.  Email?  Talking on the phone?  Using sticky notes?  We’re addicted to everything!

This is data spin – nothing new to marketing and PR – but that’s the problem with the web.  You can’t spin data, you need to be accurate or you’re just going to get called out for it.  The web will always question data sources, the motivations behind those publishing datapoints, and call blatant examples of pure subjectivity or inaccuracies out.