Technology is a divisive topic for many people across many fields. Medical innovations always have staunch supporters and cynics, and the globalized online web has become so ubiquitous, we’d barely be able to function without it. This intense use of the Internet has garnered concern like any other technical advance, but a new editorial published in The BMJ says that certain exaggerated viewpoints are harmful, and that they aren’t backed up by scientific evidence.

Scientists from the University College London and the University of Oxford took aim at the claims of Susan Greenfield, a senior research fellow at Lincoln College Oxford. Her viewpoints have not been published in peer reviewed scientific literature and have largely been aired in the media. Greenfield claims that intense use of Internet and computer games can be harmful to the scientific brain, and that social networking sites can negatively affect social interaction.

The authors of the editorial write that these ideas “are not based on a fair scientific appraisal of the evidence, often confuse correlation for causation, give undue weight to anecdote and poor quality studies, and are misleading to parents and the public at large.”

As an example, the researchers note that adolescent use of social media networking sites “has been found to enhance existing friendships and the quality of relationships, although some individuals benefit more than others.”

Greenfield claims social networking sites negatively affect interpersonal empathy and personal identity, something that “the bulk of research does not support,” according to the authors. Her other claims include that online interaction could be a “trigger” for autism, and that use of computer games can lead to impulsiveness, shorter attention span, and aggression.

The scientists say these claims are “potentially stigmatizing to people with autism,” and that the valid concerns that exist over digital technology “are in danger of being overshadowed by the current debate.”

Rather than technology having a negative impact on children’s capacities, they suggest that the displacement of other activities seems to be a significant source of negativity. For example, low levels of physical activity, often associated with intense use of digital technology, have been linked to diabetes and obesity. The displacement of physical activity by video games, rather than an altered cognitive function, has been found to account for low performance in school.

While they recognize potential risks, including online safety, the authors say “we need to recognize that use of Internet and digital technology has cognitive and social benefits and to balance these against any risks.”

There is already a large amount of research into the concerns about digital technology, they say, and that accurate and informed information is key to inform the issue.

Source: Bell V, Bishop D, Przybylski A. The Debate Over Digital Technology And Young People. The BMJ. 2015.