I was hanging out with some friends the other night . . . friends who (gasp) are not on twitter. They were asking me what the point was – and their questions were valid. Is it just where people tell what their having for dinner? Yes. Is it an ADD platform for narcissism? Yes. Is it a pointless way to waste time bantering with people you don’t really know?
Yes. It’s all of those things.
But there is a little more to it, and this morning's reaction to the Psychology Today article I wrote about this morning is an example of another use of twitter: change-agent. Twitter is, in a way, a public relations forum, because it allows ANYONE a platform to speak directly to a company, person, or publication in a public space. Sometimes this backfires, of course . . . people can cause rumors, or individuals can bully companies. But in the case of Psychology Today, a chorus of outrage can make a company take notice. Within a couple hours of posting, Psychology Today had removed the offensive post and issued an apology. A follow-up post suggested that the outrage on twitter was the catalyst for it’s removal.
Psychology Today posts a great response from another author about this morning’s offensive post, and he said what I had wanted to say, if perhaps I had more sleep, more education, and less children running around my feet.
The point is that there are also group differences, not in attractiveness (as Kanazawa claims), but in cultural messages about what is and is not attractive. Standards of beauty, like most other beliefs, are socialized and change not only from place to place but also over time. In both the United States and England, (where Kanazawa lives and works), standards of beauty are essentially "White" standards, because whites comprise the majority of the population and have disproportional control over both media and fashion. And while it is not just White respondents who are socialized this way (internalized racism has been well documented), it is certainly the case that White Americans and Europeans (who are less likely to have received more positive messages about Black beauty) would show the strongest anti-Black bias.
As long as this is understood and framed accordingly, there is no problem with the data Kanazawa reports. What they show is that because Black faces and bodies don't fit mainstream White standards of physical attractiveness, both respondents and interviewers show an anti-Black bias. Unfortunately, Kanazawa fails to consider either sample bias or socializing effects. Even if he believes, as he apparently does, that human behavior is entirely "evolutionary", good science requires a careful analysis of sample bias and an explicit discussion regarding the study's generalizability. Without this kind of methodological analysis, Kanazawa's entire premise -- that there is such a thing as a single objective standard of attractiveness -- is fatally (and tragically) flawed.
You can read the rest (including the attribution to twitter) here.
And granted, I spent much of my time on twitter today in a mock feud with two friends in regards to James Franco’s hotness, or lack thereof. (A feud we later took to Pinterest to settle. OBVIOUSLY).
So yes, twitter can be a complete waste of time.
But sometimes, it can allow a bunch of random people to put a major publication in check.