I'm an avid surfer of social media sites, and there are some great ones out there - Mashable, for example, definitely merited a place on my 43Marks homepage.  Yet it never ceases to amaze me how many unverified stats end up at such sites, reported, cited, quoted, retweeted, what have you, without question.  So, when I noticed the headline, "80% of Children Under Age 5 Use the Internet" by Sarah Kessler, my bullshit detectors were maxed to the limit.  Just off the top of my head, I reasoned that many children under the age of 5 can't bloody read, so how do they log on, and what sites do they visit?  Okay, no sense nitpicking, but try to figure out the following graphic:

Now if I'm reading this chart correctly, we are expected to believe that 75% of 0-2 year olds use a computer and nearly 60% a cellphone?  This is difficult to accept even for 2 year olds, but what about 3 month olds?  And what are they doing on the cell phone - talking?  Before they learn how to talk? These stats supposedly come from Sesame Street Media Utilization Studies - that sure sounds impressive to me, until Kessler's link takes you to the Sesame Workshop site which hardly looks like a repository of rigorous research.  I consulted one of the SSMS reports, and found the following definition of 'media use', supposedly the measure plotted on the graphic: 'The amount of time spent actively consuming a given medium.'  So I guess that means we can rule out the possibility that the participation percentages include cases where a mother surfing the Internet is holding her baby, who happens to drool on the keyboard. 

Throwing out a bunch of head scratching statistics is nothing new when it comes to hyping social media - those Social Media Revolution videos are fun to watch and creatively produced, but replete with questionable statistics (e.g., '96% of Millennials have joined a social network').  Which is why I always cringe when my students start off a presentation with one of those videos. 


Moral of the story: just because the stats appear on an otherwise credible website or in a brilliantly produced video, it doesn't mean that they are accurate.  Seek verification and demand to know what method was used to acquire them.