If you are one of the thousands of people that call yourself a social media addict you are determining that you suffer from a psychological disorder similar to alcoholism, kleptomania and drug addiction. While social media addiction might not be fatal, it can definitely be harmful, and can even cause break up of relationships, or a deterrent from forming relationships, which is anti-social behavior.
I will not flaunt medical statistics or cite World Health Organization (WHO) or the American Psychology Association (APA) sources that describe addictions. What I will do is present the case of social media addiction, and you can decide where you fit into this equation.
One researcher from Nottingham Trent University in the UK has been studying the effects of the internet and social media on the lives of average people. Mark Griffiths, Chartered Psychologist and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit asks and answers his own question “Do I believe that people can be so engrossed in social media that they neglect everything else in their life?” and answers, “I do think it can be potentially addictive.” Griffiths adds “The thing about social networking is that it’s a social behavior. In terms of general sex differences and gender differences, the typical female tends to be more social than the typical male,” This perhaps explains why so many women are addicted to social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Griffiths also states that screen time is not the main issue in social media addiction, it is the outcome for wasting time during screen time as well as the need, or impatience, to be constantly involved in a screen during social gatherings and even work that causes most of the issues. This impatience comes with other signs that are similar to the cravings for gambling, sex, smoking and even drug addicts.
Griffiths states that as with other addictions, social media addiction comes with mood changes, social withdrawal, conflict, and relapse, as well as the standard denial process where a person does not accept how the addiction is affecting their lives and those around them.
The screen time issue is debatable since every person relates to their environment differently. For instance, a couple of hours online is not considered an addiction. There are many excessive gamers that spend hours online but also find the time to maintain a job and keep healthy. It also depends on the persons status, a married person with two kids and a job will generate a different feeling around him/her if they spend too much time online instead of with their family. A teenager will only lose time and real-life social interaction while playing online during his/her free time. Limiting internet usage is not the cure, especially if you allow a person to watch tv or read a book instead. What must be drawn are lines in using the internet while participating in social activities such as eating, playing board games, participating in debates or conferences, or even sitting in a boardroom. Wherever the focus on another person should be entertained, social media and internet should be blocked.
Since the time factor is not the main issue of social media addiction, what is?
Griffiths first published his paper in 2011 together with co-researcher Daria Kuss. In a survey performed during 2017, they found that younger single women were showing signs of addiction, “The thing about social networking is that it’s a social behavior. In terms of general sex differences and gender differences, the typical female tends to be more social than the typical male.” The “addicted” women were also showing signs of lower self-esteem, had lower incomes and education.
Griffiths terms it SNSA (Social Networking Site Addiction) which is based on the content and context of excessive use and not the time used on the interaction. However, SNS is far from becoming a recognized addiction, while there are some recognized phobias emerging with the age of smartphone technology. These include Fomo, the fear of missing out, and Nomophobia, the fear of not having your phone with you at all times; both phobias could be a part of the pattern leading to SNSA.
One researcher from Oxford University, social media psychologist Amy Orben states that “The evidence is still so scarce it is difficult to even to know whether the effect of social media is positive or negative. We need to make sure we don’t over-pathologize regular behaviors.”
There is proof to back up the various research results that are leading to the conclusion of SNSA or social media addiction and its effect on the brain. Researchers have shown that people who use more than two hours a day on specific social networking sites are likely to report poorer mental health issues. One such site is Instagram, where over 800 million global users attract graphic interactions, and a UK survey, Instagram has nominated the words social media platform for mental health issues.
Another fact is that some signs of agitation can erupt into violence when young children are barred from using their mobile devices. It is important to cultivate a schedule which will “train” the youngster to factor in online time with offline time. This factoring should also be channeled for different uses. Such as an hour for online education, an hour for online reading, an hour for online video streaming, etc. Not every online activity is damaging, and a lot of education is done online these days. By setting schedules and time frames for different sessions, the social media addiction will be negated with through the use of productive online activities. This stops the mobile device from becoming an addiction and converting it into a tool.
Just like warning signs on cigarette packets, social media sites might learn from online gaming and gambling sites which send out popup messages when a person has passed a certain number of hours. These messages are suggestive, such as stating “you’ve gambled this much and it’s 10 times what the normal person gambles.” This is not a positive or negative method, it’s an informative one that the user must decide how to handle. It does, however, give the user a gauge to compare their personal view as to the factual view provided.
Lines must be drawn when dealing with young children. A healthy use of mobile data should be maintained, but not at the cost of developing a healthy body and being involved in real life interactions. Children need to play and compete in real life physical activity to develop properly. The use of mobile devices, especially for social network sites such as YouTube should be strictly monitored. Mobile devices are great audio-book sources as well as educational tools, but again, not at the expense of developing a healthy real life interaction.