Addiction To Social Media

Addiction to social media, ie online addiction to porn, gambling, gaming, shopping, video streaming, etc. An example of this is a young person with self-esteem issues who is obsessed with body image will frequently use social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat where images of one's ideal self can be posted, with flaws cropped or filtered out. This can lead to using steroids and being addicted to the gym as they become neurotic and hyper-anxious about their body image. Research is linking social media with higher rates of eating and distorted body image disorders. The Internet is playing a role in mental health disorders, ie

"...the Internet is the latest vector for addiction in the same way mosquito is a vector for malaria..."

Alistair Mordey as quoted by Anne Hyland 2017

Some of the names given to this addiction include Internet addiction disorder, problematic Internet use, pathological Internet use or compulsive Internet use. It is regarded as similar to chemical addiction.

Some questions need to be answered when defining online addiction, ie

- Does Internet addiction lead to mental health problems or do mental health problems lead people to using the Internet in problematic ways?

- Do mental health and Internet addiction mutually influence each other, ie does a person who trawls the Internet online gambling sites have a gambling problem or an Internet addiction?

- Do people become addicted to the platform for the content of the Internet?

"...in broader terms, Internet addiction is a compulsive need to spend excessive amounts of time engaged in online activities, while other important aspects of their life - work, school, friendships and family - are neglected. Internet addiction appears to share similarities with other addictive disorders, such as withdrawal problems, tolerance and negative social repercussions..."

Anne Hyland 2017

"...social media becomes a problem......when a person becomes so dependent on it they give up normal relationships, socialising and hobbies such as sport..."

Beb Teoh as quoted by Anne Hyland 2017

One way to determine online addiction is to take a break from the Internet for a few days. If you experience withdrawal symptoms like irritability, agitation, anger or distress, etc and Internet access dominates your thoughts, then you have the basis for addiction.

Similarly a person may turn to the Internet to cope with negative feelings, like guilt, anxiety or depression, to escape from their loneliness, to procrastinate and neglect work or studies, etc.

In some countries it is estimated that Internet addiction impacts up to 10% of the population. This is expected to increase with more and more time spent online and ever expanding use of social media. For example,

- Snapchat started in 2002 and now has around 10 b. videos watched daily

- YouTube (launched in 2005) the world's busiest television platform

- Tinder (started in 2012) now receives more than 1 billion left and right swipes daily

- every day billions "likes" are clicked on Facebook; yet the like button was introduced in 2009.

The 2016 AIA Healthy Living Index survey reported

"...Australians on average spend four hours in the front of a screen for non-work use, compared with the regional average of three hours......almost 2/3 of adults admit to finding it hard to break the habit of spending so much time online, up from 56% in 2013. Half of those surveyed said social media and online were becoming addictive for them......people respond Pavlovian-like to every notification, buzz and ding. More Australian households now own a smart phone than a TV......the arrival of the smart phone in 2007 changed everything. Suddenly, the Internet is available everywhere..."

Anne Hyland 2017

Also, technology companies are developing more and more powerful algorithms that can manipulate and exploit human psychological vulnerabilities, ie they can influence reward-motivated behavioural parts of the brain to keep people glued to their websites for longer.

"...The company that keeps the eyeball for longer is typically more profitable..."

Anne Hyland 2017

"...when a person experiences a reward - for example winning a race - the level of dopamine, the feel-good chemical in the brain, rises. The person feels pleasure and excitement, an experience a loser doesn't. Many addictive drugs such as cocaine and ice increase dopamine activity. Research suggests that online content from social media, porn, gaming and gambling also activates dopamine levels in our brain..."

Anne Hyland 2017

Anything that increases the dopamine levels can become addictive!!!

Scans of the brain have shown that the areas that light up on social media activity this are the same for heroin addiction.

"...it's tapping into the reward system in the brain and can become addictive. It's why children often get very angry and aggressive when you want to take away their PlayStations..."

Jane Williams as quoted by Anne Hyland 2017

online sites exploit the human desire for social approval and status, ie

"...you get an instant, affirmative reply; your tweet or message in a roundabout way boost your status within the pack or tribe..."

Alistair Mordey has quoted by Anne Hyland 2017

This satisfaction is gained in real time

Surveys in 2016 like Sensis Social Media report, State of the Nation (Australian Psychological Society), etc are showing the following trends

- a 3-fold increase from 2015 in the amount of time spent each week on Facebook, eg 12.5 hours

- social media is both a cause and a way of handling stress, eg around 50% visit social media as a form of stress release (up from 1/3 in 2011)

"...Using social media can have positive benefits irrespective of whether we are in reality or virtual reality......social media and the Internet are an accepted part of modern life and communications, and enable us to maintain established networks, particularly with friends interstate or overseas, organising to meet friends after work. Social media can even increase a person's confidence in relating to others without the usual added social pressures. It has also created awareness about charitable causes, even protest around the globe..."

Alistair Mordey has quoted by Anne Hyland 2017

strategies for dealing with Internet addiction include cognitive behavioural therapy, abstinence, yoga, meditation, encouraging socialisation, sporting activities and hobbies, etc.

It is claimed that the Internet has reduced our collective attention span. For example, people used to lose themselves in a novel for hours; now, they are inclined to flick through "pages" on the Internet. This has led to a condition which has been called reading insecurity, ie a subjective experience of thinking that you are not getting as much from reading as you used to and a suspicion that the ability to concentrate and absorb has atrophied.

. Many studies (Katy Waldman, 2015) suggest that people read the Internet differently than they read print. We skim and scan for information we want on the Internet rather than starting at the beginning and ploughing through to the end. Our eyes jump around, magnetised to links - which imply authority and importance. If need be, we will scroll. We read faster and lighter engaging in skim reading and hopping from one source to another

. The difference between these modes of reading have caused a debate around "orality and literacy".

. It is much harder to concentrate when you read online, eg e-mails, social media, etc.. It has been suggested (Katy Waldman, 2015) that people's comprehension suffers when they read online because of the barrage of extraneous stimuli interrupting the transfer of information from sensory to working memory, and from working to long-term memory.

People also report being more impatient when they read online

. It has been suggested that the "deep reading brain" is becoming redundant and therefore in danger of disappearing if we don't learn how to handle online distractions.

. We are becoming more e-dependent and reading more electronically as it is more convenient, more accessibility, cost-effective, user-friendly, etc

. With traditional reading methods, we read more slowly when we like a text as our brains enter a state of arousal that resembles hypnosis, ie a trance; it is claimed that this reading requires deeper engagement.

Some research (Daniel Willingham, 2015) shows that attention span is not shrinking with the digital age. In fact, attention span is divided into 2 elements, ie

i) how much we can keep in our mind (this is measured by asking people to repeat increasingly long strings of digits in reverse order)
ii) how well we can we maintain focus (asking people to monitor visual stimuli for occasional subtle changes)

Over a 50 year period there has been little change. On the other hand, there are 2 systems of attention and associated thought, ie

i) directed outwards like when you are scrolling through e-mails or playing a video game ii) directed inwards like when you daydream, plan the future or reflect on the past

Both systems of attention cannot be working at the same time.

Most digital activities involve outwardly-directed attention and there are some fears that we could be losing our ability to daydream. Daydreaming is associated with greater creativity.

The downsides of inwardly-directed thought are

- daydreaming can distract us when we need to be focused
- reflection can turn ugly, eg fixating on some past insult or error

It is claimed (Katy Waldman, 2015) that the younger generation have fewer problems with comprehension and recall than older generations when engaged in on-line reading

Also memories are being altered by the digital revolution, ie

"...the savage irony is that the more accurately the Internet remembers everything, the more our memories atrophy. The result is an amnesia about everything except the immediate, the instant, and now and the me..."

Jonathan Freedland as quoted by Andrew Keen, 2015

- Less polite, ie in communicating, people are more direct, aggressive, rude, etc and less tactful, diplomatic, nice, civil, etc to each other on social media

- depression, ie there is even some suggestion of a strong association between use of social media use and depression

"... Every app on your phone is engineered to hook and hold your attention, at the expense of your work, sleep, family and mental health..."

Ian Leslie, 2018

- encourages fraud with many users have inflated their social media followers with automated or fake accounts. This has suggests the false appearance of social influence in order to boost their political activism, business endeavours  or entertainment careers. This is fuelled in part by the growing political and commercial value of being widely followed on social media, ie social media influencers or mini-celebrities who promote brands and products to their followers and customers

Various platforms are starting to weed out these fake accounts and some firms like Unilever are no longer paying influencers. There is a need for

"...less bot activity and more human activity..."

Keith Weed as quoted by Nicholas Confessore et al 2018

- encourages abuse, harassment and hate speech, ie allowing extremists to express their views on social media.

"...A 2013 Pew report found that in the lead up to the US 2012 election, tweets about both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney skewed heavily towards the negative - and that was before the advent of Donald Trump, police shooting protests and other events that dial up the rancour in American politics and society. Surveys confirmed the generally adversarial, vitriolic characters of Twitter discussions. The platform's antagonistic slant is clearly demonstrated by the concept of "ratio". When a tweets ratio of replies to Retweets or Likes is high, Twitter users assume that the Tweet was a bad one, thus offering a tempting chance to tell the user that he or she is wrong or stupid......surveys show that online harassment is pervasive......for women, Twitter is toxic..."

Noah Smith 2018

Some people in the tech industry have a differing view of hate speech; they see it as valuable disagreement. They are more concerned with the concept of "echo chamber", ie where like-minded people are not exposed to differing points of view.

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