Debunking the One-in-Five Divorces Linked to Facebook Stat

Did you hear the one about the research studies that cited that Facebook is causing 20% of today’s divorces? Press releases headlined it. The news media ran stories about it. “Experts” validated it. People repeated it around the water cooler and their social networks. And everyone talked about it like it was a real stat. Unfortunately, the joke is on all of us.

So how did we buy into the fastest growing, most widespread urban myth in the world?
It started in late 2009, gained traction over the next several months, spread like a viral YouTube video throughout 2010, and finally, after being repeated for 14 months, it took on its most recent form declaring: “Facebook linked to one in five divorces in the United States.”

How did the whole thing get started?
Apparently Mark Keenan, the founder and managing director of an online divorce firm in the UK (Divorce-Online) had “heard from my staff that there were a lot of people saying they had found out things about their partners on Facebook and I decided to see how prevalent it was.”

The self-described “UK leader in online divorce services and solutions” sent out a press release on December 21, 2009 with their findings under the headline: “Facebook is bad for your marriage – research finds.”

Keenan said, “I was really surprised to see that 20 percent of all the petitions contained references to Facebook.”

How rigorous was the research?
According to the press release, “Research for Divorce-Online was carried out on 20th December 2009 with a sample size of 5,000 divorce petitions.” In fact, they “scanned their divorce petition database for the use of the word Facebook, and found 989 instances of the word in over 5,000 divorce petitions sampled.”

nd what about Divorce-Online ? They claimed to have helped over 60,000 couples achieve an amicable divorce since starting in 1999. This is roughly 3.5 percent of the approximate 1.66 million divorces in that time period. Their primary clients are those who want “an uncontested divorce without needing the services of a solicitor.” Our best guess is that these are younger couples with few if any real assets or property, and couples without children…a far cry from reflecting the general population.

Where did the 1-in-5 stat come from?
The combination of research-sounding buzz phrases like “sample size,” “sampled,” and “scanned” with dates and figures must have made the methodology sound legit.
On the same day the press release hit the faxes and inboxes, The Telegraph looks to be the first news source to bite. Their headline proclaimed that “Facebook is fuelling divorce, research claims.” But it was the sub-heading that said it all: “Facebook is being cited in almost one in five of online divorce petitions, lawyers have claimed. “ With several other UK pubs sharing the story and tens of thousands of people recommending the Telegraph article to their Facebook networks (in the pre-Like days)…within a day, the sub-heading morphed into the main headline:
• Daily Mail (Dec 22) – “Facebook ‘sex chats’ blamed for one in five divorces”
• CNET (Dec 22) – “UK divorce lawyers: A fifth of cases Facebook-related”
• NY Daily News (Dec 23) – “Irreconcilable wall posts? Nearly 1 in 5 divorce cases cite Facebook, lawyers say”
• Times of India (Dec 24) – “One in five divorce cases use Facebook as evidence”
From there, numerous international news sites carried the news of the danger Facebook posed to marriages in their own languages. Countless Tweets shared the dire news among the millions of Twitter users. By New Year’s, the one-in-five figure had become ingrained in the public conscience.

Another study adds fuel to the fire
In February 2010, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) released findings from a survey of its 1,600 members in a news release with the headline: “Big surge in social networking evidence says survey of nation’s top divorce lawyers.”

The AA ML reported on two oft-cited (and seemingly credible) survey results. First, “81% of the nation’s top divorce attorneys say they have seen an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence during the past five years.” Second, “Facebook is the primary source of this type of evidence according to 66% of the AAML respondents, while MySpace follows with 15%, Twitter at 5%, and other choices listed by 14%.”
Who reported on Facebook-related divorce stories in 2010?

Virtually everyone! This was one of the hottest topics of the year on news programs, talk radio, in publications and on websites and blogs! Here’s just a sampling of the coverage:
• msnbc.com – “Facebook is divorce lawyers’ new best friend”
• cnn.com – “Divorce attorneys catching cheaters on Facebook”
• foxnews.com – “Facebook to Blame for Divorce Boom”
• CBSnews.com – “Why Divorce Lawyers Adore Facebook”
• Chicago Tribune – “Do social media sites make cheating easier?”
• Miami Herald – “Facebook becoming key evidence in divorces”
• Mashable.com – “Facebook Becoming a Prime Source for Divorce Case Evidence”
• PCWorld – “Marriage on the Rocks? Better Stay Off Facebook”

Things are going to get a bit confusing here real soon, so it is important to remember that this was not a survey of all divorce attorneys, but AAML members only. Also, talking with a spokesperson from the AAML, they have never reported that Facebook was a cause of any number of divorces.

Link to the Krafsky article/pass this on: http://tinyurl.com/4r4nluv

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