Following the release of our Valentine’s Day report [pdf link], we were pleased to see media outlets across the world publicising and discussing the initial findings of our newly expanded dataset. We understand that when covering academic reports, journalists will naturally focus on those elements which will be of greatest interest to the general public. Earlier coverage of this project by the media has (for example) looked at the novelty of using science and technology to find love, as well as provided commentary on the surprisingly high prevalence of “digital spying” between partners. This time, journalists seemed most interested in our findings about the success of middle-aged online daters.
An article in the Daily Mail typified this trend. It lead with the headline “Internet love lives begin at 40″, and discussed at length our finding that online dating is most popular (relatively speaking) with those between the ages of 40 and 69. This is of interest to the general public because it seemingly contradicts the widely-held perception that younger people are quicker to take up new technologies. The article, like many others, also drew on quotes in our press release from Dr. Hogan and Professor Dutton about the research’s impact and relevance, to strengthen the perceived impact of the findings. By and large, the central claims and tone of our report were well communicated in this piece – though there were a few exceptions. One of the article’s standout statements was that “one-third of middle-aged people found their partner on dating websites”, which could be considered misleading since it fails to make explicit the fact that this figure includes only those couples who had access to the Internet, and began a relationship since 1997 (a restriction we used to compensate for the so-called “cohort effect”). The same is true of another claim in the piece attributed to our report (that “21% of all couples met on social networking sites”). Once again, this figure is more specific than the author implies. It only includes those individuals who met their current partner online, and is meant to be considered in the context of other potential online meeting places (such as through personal websites, personal contact or dating websites).
These inaccuracies aside, the scale of the coverage was pleasing. A Reuters syndicated piece was picked up by publications as diverse as The China Post and The Toronto Sun, while The Times of India also carried the story, demonstrating the global appeal of research into this aspect of online interaction. Closer to home Aleks Krotoski, writing for The Observer, produced one of the more engaging analyses of our data by considering it alongside wider debates about mediated communication and the changing nature of modern intimacy. Her piece carefully contextualised the discussion with her own experiences, and drew upon complementary research and commentary from fellow academics and industry professionals. Krotoski also highlighted another important aspect of our findings: rather than constituting an entirely separate approach to finding love, dating websites and social networking sites in fact represent an additional tool for those seeking a relationship.
The overall focus on age-related findings found in these pieces is perhaps indicative of the prominence we placed on these results in the press release. Certainly, we felt that these findings represented the most accessible “surprise” in our data. Nevertheless, such a narrow focus in the media coverage may indicate that the public at large are interested primarily in data which contradicts existing assumptions about how emerging technology is being used, rather than on previously unexplored descriptive data (such as our findings about cross-national variations, for example).
For a full list of news coverage of this project, please visit the project page on the OII website (and click the news tab).