A new study has suggested that the use of Twitter to debate may be responsible for a drop in the quality of public discourse.
Researchers found that Twitter use among students correlated with a drop in test results of between 25 to 40 per cent.
Experts say that the drop was most noticeable among higher-achieving students, and that the use of social networking sites had impaired their performance.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said last year that his firm is responsible for ‘building a systemic framework to help encourage more healthy debate, conversations, and critical thinking.’
But the finding may confirm what many people have already claimed – that social media is not the best place for a well-informed discussion.
Researchers from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan studied the performance of around 1,500 students attending 70 Italian high schools during the 2016 to 2018 academic year.
They were given a novel written in 1904 by Italian Nobel laureate Luigi Pirandello to study.
The text – The Late Mattia Pascal – satirises issues of self-knowledge and self-destruction.
Half of the students were encouraged to discuss and analyse the text on Twitter, with lecturers adding their own responses to enliven the debate.
The remaining 50 percent used more traditional classroom-based seminars to pour over the work.
Those who used Twitter suffered the drop in performance when it came time for tests.
‘It’s quite detrimental,’ said the university’s economic policy professor Gian Paolo Barbetta, in an interview with The Washington Post.
‘I can’t say whether something is changing in the mind, but I can say that something is definitely changing in the behaviour and the performance.’
While it may seem unfair to hold Twitter – a platform built on snappy short form messages – to account for failing to boost academic performance, the site is already in use by hundreds of Italian schools.
These institutions have created a forum, dubbed TwLetteratura, for discussions on great works of literature.
Experts behind the paper say the findings suggest we should all be more wary about using Twitter to debate the issues of the day.
Professor Barbetta told the Washington Post that people will take a shortcut if it’s given to them.
‘But a shortcut won’t take you to the destination in this case,’ he added. ‘It will take you somewhere different.’
The full findings of the study were published in a working paper put out by the university and have not yet been peer reviewed.