Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Facebook, syphilis and causality

The right-wing press in this country has been all a-flutter about a claim that Facebook has been linked to a rise in cases of the sexually-transmitted disease syphilis – see articles by the Daily Fail Mail and Faily Daily Telegraph.
What’s interesting is the original story appeared in the Evening Gazette last week and at no point actually names Facebook – just ‘social networking sites’. Facebook may be the world’s most popular social networking site but it’s not the only one.
Next, according to Roy Greenslade in the Guardian, this is based on a mere 30 cases. It’s an increase but not some kind of epidemic, and could theoretically be caused by just one or two particularly promiscuous individuals.
The ‘link’ between social networking use and the rise of syphilis is seemingly explained by the fact that young people in the areas concerned are apparently more likely that other UK youngsters to use these sites. But this is a rather poor explanation. Really, you would need to find some better proof that those who use social networking sites are more likely to have unprotected sex with strangers, and in particular prove that this occurs among a significant number of users and not just a few promiscuous individuals who skew the results.
This seems like a good time to link to Statfail, a recently launched blog which shows that the decline in album sales is due to Nickelback and that there is a global economic upturn after the release of any new Pokemon game. And the health news section of NHS Choices is very good at debunking bogus health stories in the media.
Update: There’s a better overview here.

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