The Daily Mail, a UK newspaper, made its own headline today on Twitter after publishing a story linking Twitter usage to an increase in immorality.
The article, which relies heavily on a yet-to-be-published research paper out of the University of Southern California Brain and Creativity Center, claims that the constant interaction and updating taking place on Twitter and other social networking sites doesn't leave enough time for the brain to process the emotions; specifically ones relating to human suffering.
At the root of this claim lie the results of a study conducted by Antonio Damasio at USC about how long it takes the brain to recognize certain stimuli, specifically pain and emotion. The researchers found in their study that it took the brain much longer to respond to an emotional stimulus than to a painful one. The argument put forth by the Daily Mail is that heavy use of Twitter does not provide the brain enough time to respond to an emotional experience and develop admiration, which is necessary to develop a sense of morals.
The numerous leaps that the Daily Mail takes in forming the hypothesis that Twitter usage can corrupt our moral compass are almost as absurd as the cherry picked quotes they use to support it. In particular, the jump from twittering not benefiting the emotional growth of the brain in the same way as many offline activities discounts the fact that many individuals on Twitter do; read and (gasp!!) meet up with friends in real life.
The connection between the fast-paced use of Twitter and a lack of morals seemed like a rather large jump even with my unscientific personal experience using Twitter. So I decided to get in touch with Antonio Damasio to find out what his study really meant for the millions of Twitter users out there.
Antonio responded, "We were certainly NOT talking about Twitter. The claim that Twitter makes us immoral is NOT ours, and has nothing to do with our study."
There you have it straight from the author's mouth, the interactions you have on Twitter don't play a role in making you immoral; at least not directly.
However you slice it, twittering won't make you any less moral than the next guy, unless of course you're following Satan. Or are a regular Daily Mail reader...
Is Twitter making you immoral? Daily Mail says yes, science says no