Research shows new mothers are less active on Facebook, aren’t flooding news feeds with babies

A researcher finds that new mothers are quite a bit less active on Facebook after their children are born:

Recently, Meredith Ringel Morris—a computer scientist at Microsoft Research—gathered data on what new moms actually do online. She persuaded more than 200 of them to let her scrape their Facebook accounts and found the precise opposite of the UnBaby.Me libel. After a child is born, Morris discovered, new mothers post less than half as often. When they do post, fewer than 30 percent of the updates mention the baby by name early on, plummeting to not quite 10 percent by the end of the first year. Photos grow as a chunk of all postings, sure—but since new moms are so much less active on Facebook, it hardly matters. New moms aren’t oversharers. Indeed, they’re probably undersharers. “The total quantity of Facebook posting is lower,” Morris says.

And therein lies an interesting lesson about our supposed age of oversharing. If new moms don’t actually deluge the Internet with baby talk, why does it seem to so many of us that they do? Morris thinks algorithms explain some of it. Her research also found that viewers disproportionately “like” postings that mention new babies. This, she says, could result in Facebook ranking those postings more prominently in the News Feed, making mothers look more baby-obsessed.

And a reminder of how we could see beyond our personal experiences and anecdotes and look at the bigger picture:

I have another theory: It’s a perceptual quirk called a frequency illusion. Once we notice something that annoys or surprises or pleases us—or something that’s just novel—we tend to suddenly notice it more. We overweight its frequency in everyday life. For instance, if you’ve decided that fedoras are a ridiculous hipster fashion choice, even if they’re comparatively rare in everyday life, you’re more likely to notice them. And pretty soon you’re wondering, why is everyone wearing fedoras now? Curse you, hipsters!…

The way we observe the world is deeply unstatistical, which is why Morris’ work is so useful. It reminds us of the value of observing the world around us like a scientist—to see what’s actually going on instead of what just happens to gall (or please) us. I’d hazard that perceptual illusions lead us to overamplify the incidence of all sorts of ostensibly annoying behavior: selfies on Instagram, people ignoring one another in favor of their phones, Google Glass. We don’t have a plague of oversharing. We have a plague of over-noticing. It’s time to reboot our eyes.

This study suggests the mothers themselves are not at fault but the flip side of this study would seem to be to then study the news feeds of friends of new mothers to see how often these pictures and posts show up (and how algorithms might be pushing this). And who are the people more likely to like such posts and pictures? This study may have revealed the supply side of the equation but there is more to explore.

Born into digital lives: average newborn online within an hour of birth

The newborns of today arrive online very quickly:

The poll found that parents were the most likely to upload pictures of the newborns (62 per cent), followed by other family members (22 per cent) and friends (16 per cent).

The most popular platform for displaying these first baby images was Facebook, followed by Instagram and Flickr…

Marc Phelps of baby photo agency http://www.posterista.co.uk, which commissioned the survey, said: “The fact that a picture of the average newborn is now online within an hour just goes to highlight the enormous impact social media has had on our lives in the past five years, and how prevalent these pages are in helping to keep loved ones informed on the special occasions in our lives, such as the birth of a new child.

Some more on the survey:

The poll by print site http://www.posterista.co.uk, which surveyed 2,367 parents of children aged five and under, aimed to discover the impact social media have had on the way new parents share information and images of their offspring…

The top five reasons cited for sharing these images online included keeping distant family and friends updated (56%), expressing love for their children (49%), describing it as an ideal location to store memories (34%), saying it is a great way to record children’s early years (28%), and to brag to and “better” other parents’ photos (22%).

It sounds like complete digital immersion. The most common reason given for this practice mirror the main reasons users give for participating in SNS like Facebook: to remain connected with others. But, the next four reasons differ. The second and fifth reasons suggest posting photos about newborns is about social interactions, first with the new baby (positive, though the baby doesn’t know it – plus, this could be part of a public performance of how love is shown in the 2010s) but then also in competition with others (negative). The third and fourth reasons are more about new digital tools; instead of developing film or printing pictures, SNS can be online repositories of life (offloading our memories online).

Thinking more broadly, what are the ethics of posting pictures of people online who haven’t given their permission or don’t know they are online? This could apply to children but this could also apply to friends or even strangers who end up in your photos. Some have suggested companies like Facebook have information on people who don’t have profiles through the information provided by others. Plus, if you don’t go online, others might think you are suspicious. So, perhaps the best way to protect your content online is not to withdraw and try to hide but rather to rigorously monitor all possible options…

Blizzards do not lead to baby booms in 9 months

There is a story out there that suggests when a blizzard comes along, like the one that hit Chicago this past week, one can expect a rise in births in nine months. Experts say this story has little foundation in fact:

The commonly held assumption dates at least to the widespread blackout of 1965 that doused New York City in darkness. About nine months after residents spent hours together with the lights off, The New York Times reported an uptick in births. A sociologist quoted at the time offered this euphemistic explanation:

“The lights went out and people were left to interact with each other,” he said.

Over the years, blackouts, snowstorms, and even full moons have all been deemed natural aphrodisiacs. But for nearly as long, experts have sought to debunk the relationship between catastrophe and copulation, dubbing it mere myth.

“It is evidently pleasing to many people to fantasy that when people are trapped by some immobilizing event which deprives them of their usual activities, most will turn to copulation,” demographer J. Richard Udry wrote in a 1970 paper that showed there was no statistically significant increase in births that could be attributed to the 1965 blackout.

Tom Smith, director of the Center for the Study of Politics at the University of Chicago, agreed that most baby boom speculation following various disruptions has not proved true.

“First, these events are as likely to separate partners as they are to isolate them together with ‘nothing better to do.’ Second, most people are using contraceptives,” Smith said. “(And) third, these are hardly the type of events that make couples say, ‘Let’s start a family.'”

So why exactly does this myth still make the rounds? This one is fairly easy to disprove: just look at the records for birth nine months after any event.

Quick Review: Babies

I watched the film Babies recently with the hopes that I might use a portion of it to illustrate the idea of socialization in my Introduction to Sociology course. I didn’t end up using the film but I still have a few thoughts about this 2010 film:

1. The film follows four babies: one each in Namibia, Mongolia, Japan, and San Francisco. Between the four of them, there were some contrasts. But I’m not sure there was enough variation in these cases. Outside of the Namibian baby, the other three families were fairly Westernized. The Japanese and American baby seemed to experience similar things. If the goal was to draw attention to how babies develop in similar stages yet do so in unique cultural settings, I think this could have been improved. This is a problem that also plagues case studies: cases need to be selected in such a way that they have variation on the key variables of interest (culture in this instance).

2. The movie has no narration – it is a compilation of scenes tracking their development and there is some instrumental music. This leads to a lot of “awww” moments but the film struggles to say something larger.

3. Some of the scenes were quite well put together. The shots of the Mongolian child seemingly out in the wilderness on his own (a constant backdrop of mountains and cattle) were impressive.

4. I know this is an inherent problem in a film that attempts to follow four children through several years of life but I didn’t feel like we had a good understanding of the broader context the babies were in. There was little or no information about their parents or families. I felt like we saw a lot of scenes meant to show the different stages of development but little of the full story. Since the film was somewhat short (just under 80 minutes), ten or fifteen minutes of this information could easily have been added though it would have altered the approach.

Overall, this was an engaging film as it is interesting to watch the children grow up. There is much potential in these scenes but the film as a whole struggles to make a larger point.

(This film was okay in the eyes of critics. According to RottenTomatoes.com, 69% of critics – 67 out of 97 – said the film was “fresh.”)