Good or bad? Reliable or unreliable? Both, depending!
Laura Munro, a Lecturer in our Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health, noticed that in her nutrition classes students appeared to be questioning what she said based on what they'd learned from social media. For example, students would make comments like "Instagram told me..." or "XYZ influencer said that ....". She was concerned that the influence of social media could potentially undermine students' ability to learn and adopt evidence-based practice, so she decided to investigate further in her own research for her Masters in Professional Practice, supervised by Jo Kirkwood.
Laura surveyed Institute students asking them about their use of social media generally and about exercise and nutrition in particular. She was interested in how reliable they think information from social media is and how they would use that information, especially in their education.
Survey respondents were almost all social media users, spending 30 minutes to 2 hours per day on various social media platforms. Their reasons for using it were that it was easy to use and accessible, and helped them stay current. They recognised that information on social media was unreliable, and said that it was unsuitable for use in academic research. Laura also learned that the students were more likely to scroll down a feed reading the headlines without clicking through for more information - even though the headlines are designed to grab attention so might not accurately summarise the full article.
What concerned her was that they were not assessing the reliability of the information. Some information on social media is reliable and there are appropriate ways to use that information, but the students may lack the skills to be able to critically evaluate information for themselves. Laura concludes that tertiary education needs to teach these skills, and she will be adapting her own teaching practice accordingly.
Image credit: mkhmarketing, used under Creative Commons licence CC BY 2.0