What do we know about Facebook addiction?

How concerned should we be about social networking sites as an addictive entity? The last few years has seen more research in this area. Jacky Power completed research on Facebook addiction with London South Bank University and shares her findings in a series of four articles.

Mention the word ‘Facebook’ and most people have got something to say about it. Either they have made a conscious decision to not join it, use it to keep in touch with friends and family in far off places, are cynical about the ‘false’ worlds portrayed of fun, frivolity and freedom or are avid fans who love nothing more than updating their status when anything significant – or not so significant – happens in their lives.

 

Like it or not, Facebook has become a significant part in people’s everyday life. Births, marriages, divorces and deaths are often announced on the internet and nowhere more so than Facebook. Of all social networking sites Facebook has the highest reach and highest frequency of use (Ofcom 2015). At the end of 2015 Facebook had 1.007 billion daily active users, which is an increase of 14% from the previous year.

 

Research on the use of Facebook can appear paradoxical. Users report both a sense of connection and disconnection (Sheldon, Abad & Hirsch, 2011). It can help to strengthen and maintain relationships (McEwan, 2013; Valenzuela, Park & Kee, 2008; cited Fox & Moreland, 2015) and facilitate wellbeing (Nabi, Prestin & So, 2013), but the length of time spent on Facebook has been associated with a lower quality of life (Chen & Lee, 2013). Some users report a sense of being ‘tethered’ to Facebook (Fox et al, 2015) – of wanting to leave, but feeling compelled to stay, in fear of missing out.

 

Dependency on social media is very much a reality in every day terms. In a recent Ofcom report 10% of adults questioned reported to be ‘hooked’ on social media (Ofcom, 2015), 41% of 16-24 year olds gave a 7-10 ‘hooked on’ rating (Ofcom, 2015). This suggests that people are stuck in a pattern of repetitive use despite their desire to not use.

 

In 2011 research in the University of Bergen in Norway by Cecile Andreassen and colleagues led to the development of a Facebook addiction scale (The Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale). They based it around the six core features of addiction: salience, mood alteration, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse. Rather than focus on the frequency or regularity of the behaviour, this scale put the behaviour in the context of how detrimental it is to an individual’s life and how they may continue to participate in it despite negative consequences.

 

Since then researchers have begun to investigate the drivers for excessive Facebook use. They have looked at differences in age, social anxiety, personality traits. Yet, I think we have to fine tune our approach when looking at Facebook addiction. It is generally accepted that addiction can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, class, religion or sexual orientation. If we are to take Facebook addiction seriously, then we have to consider the drivers to addictive behaviour rather than basing it upon a passing age or a gregarious personality.

In the second part of this feature I explore this in more depth and look specifically the connection between Facebook addiction and attachment.

Jacky Power is an Addictions Therapist and has worked in centres in Guildford and Farnham. Jacky has recently started up her own private practice. She is passionate about supporting people in their journeys from addiction to recovery and has a particular interest in supporting the addict’s loved ones who have also been affected by the consequences of addiction. www.jackypower.com

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