Is it any surprise that people are dealing with Facebook addiction, the leading social media website? The popularity of the site and its ability to deliver just about anything to a group a person is connected to has become a daily, if not hourly, a procedure for people of all ages. And those who are adept at technology practically use the platform for everything from shopping to discussing the latest place or location they have visited. This need to share information and obtain it from others about personal life is a unique trend started in the 2000s and continues with each young generation that is tech-savvy. Unfortunately, addiction is also changing how people behave, how they see the world around them, and most importantly, how they see themselves. Learn about Facebook Addiction!

Facebook Addiction: A Valid Mental Addiction

A recent study from Norwegian researchers crossed the barrier in April 2012, providing the first scientific study that examined and quantified Facebook addiction. Facebook, as many are aware, is a social sharing website that can be accessed by computer, mobile phone or mobile device. Users update their profile with personal information, status and photos and then share the data with family and friends. Contacts do the same, and everyone mentally feeds off of everyone else’s material who is connected to each other.

The hope of the Norwegian study is that by identifying the extent of a Facebook addiction, the research can be used by psychologists to help sufferers break their mental connection to the use of the website. In comparison, this type of mental addiction may actually be harder to sever than physical substance abuse because the Internet is so prevalent in everyday life. From grocery shopping to map directions, an Internet connection has become an invaluable tool. And that same connection is all that is needed to access Facebook.

For clarification, however, the real issue is the addiction to social networking activity versus the website of Facebook. The provider could be any other name or company; it’s the access to a social connection that drives the “Facebook addiction disorder.” Facebook just happens to be the biggest and easiest platform to find mental satisfaction. A number of other sites have tried to emulate Facebook’s success, including MySpace and Bing, but they do not yet have the mass following of the former.

Facebook Addiction: Testing for the Condition

The Facebook addiction test model used by the Norwegian researchers involves a new scale to ascertain the amount of involvement the social media tool has in a person’s life and mental state. This scale, named the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale or BFAS, draws data from a Facebook user on six main areas that could trigger an addiction. These include:

  • Mood modification
  • Salience
  • Relapse
  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal and
  • Conflict

Using a controlled survey model, the researchers tested over 420 subjects, with slightly more women than men in the group. The survey work also used a number of questions to probe into personality issues and evaluations, level of sleep received, how one performs socially, perceptions of Facebook, and whether or not a person agrees he has tendencies that typically fall into the addiction category. This survey was performed and a review was put together in 2011.

Typical survey questions in the BFAS tool allowed the user to rate his involvement with the Facebook platform from a minimal level of very rarely using the system to a maximum level of very often frequency. These scores were applied by the user to questions like the following:

  • You frequently think about Facebook and how you will use it when online next time.
  • You want to use Facebook more and more.
  • Facebook allows an escape from daily worries and concerns.
  • There have been past attempts to avoid using Facebook but they failed.
  • You get irritable if you don’t log into Facebook regularly.
  • Facebook is taking up so much time, it is hurting your work and studying.

When a user scores the application level with high frequency to the above questions, again and again, that signals a potential addiction to the social media platform. However, this formula didn’t work the same for everyone. Researchers found that those who were outward going and are by nature “social butterflies” scored questions with high frequency.

Those who were introverted and conscious of their self-image scored questions with far less frequency. There was also a linkage between the frequency level of visiting Facebook and the amount of sleep a person received at night daily.

Some results were predictable from the study. Younger people were far more prone to become addicted to social media networking than older people. Just by the nature of growing up in a digital, technology world, young generations put everything onto their phone and computers to interact digitally. Older generations, possibly wary of times when information was better kept private, are not so keen to engage as much.

There were good signs from the study as well. The Norwegian researchers found that highly organized types who like structure rarely become addicted to Facebook. They saw it instead as a tool among many resources which provides some type of value for networking and communication, especially when face-to-face communication is not possible.

They are also keen on where the information they provide is going as well as the value of what they receive from others. So their actions are far more deliberate online than willy-nilly personal posting so often associated with Facebook.

In terms of gender, women studied tended to be more prone to Facebook addiction than men. This result is somewhat expected as women tend to be far more social in general than men who are far more competitive with each other. Facebook and similar platforms provide a conduit for women to express and communicate on a regular basis, similar to office talk or social chatting in the neighbourhood. Men tend to communicate with a far more goal-oriented purpose, wanting something out of the communication instead of just updating for the sake of updating.

Facebook Addiction: Criticisms of the Norwegian Study and BFAS

The weaknesses of the study and the BFAS tool generally come with the fact that it is the first of its kind out of the gate. Having an evaluation tool is typical of psychology research and the desire to measure a condition so that it can be classified. That doesn’t mean the BFAS tool is the best approach or the most convincing metric to use to find a social media addiction.

Secondly, many users assumed to be Facebook addicts are going onto Facebook for pure entertainment value versus a need associated with information communication. These are folks who are playing games and watching ongoing video channels that keep them coming back for more. The addiction in these elements is not Facebook or even social media interaction per se; it is the need to reach a reward which is typical of all online gaming or entertainment.

Finally, the term “Facebook addiction disorder” or similar may be misleading and technically incorrect. The real issue is that people need to get online and digitally connect with each other, updating and reading the latest personal information data. It’s essentially allowed spying on each other and living vicariously through each other’s postings. That mental demand can be dangerous, both for those who need to feel connected to others as well as those who keep wanting to connect to specific individuals, especially if not welcomed (think stalking here). Dubbing this kind of behaviour a website brand name addiction is wholly incorrect and puts the blame of the behaviour on the website company versus the individual who keeps coming back of his own volition.

In short, the study and tool are a start, but they shouldn’t be seen as the end-all, be-all of evaluating a social media addiction.

Social Media Addiction: Breaking the Cycle

Like most addictions that involve a mental attachment to some sort of derived satisfaction, the recovery starts with the patient first acknowledging the behavioural problem and then identifying why the problem creates temporary satisfaction. This second part is critical because it is the mental driver that keeps pushing a person back to the social platform online.

The reasons driving a social media addiction can be plenty, and they often start with a mental need on the person’s part. Those can include the need to feel:

  • Included in the group.
  • Wanted by someone.
  • Paid attention.
  • An ability to communicate openly and regularly with someone.
  • Safe in the form of a place to go to confide.
  • Better about self-image.
  • Connected.
  • Social adept and influential.
  • Updated on what everyone else is doing or experiencing.

These drivers date back to when a person was a child in many cases, and childhood for a variety of reasons didn’t go as desired. Those who were socially involved definitely adapt to the Facebook platform quickly, finding many of the same elements they had when in school among their friends. Others who swam alone, by choice or reality, don’t feel so connected to social media as adults and are able to easily disconnect for large periods of time.

When the drivers are identified, which takes some probing into a patient’s persona and history to find them, then a treatment can be developed that shows a patient why Facebook is not an answer to these needs. When a patient is able to see the connection, that’s when the addiction can be broken, overcoming the withdrawals and finding a true social solution outside of the digital world.

It’s not an easy process, however. Unlike substance abuse, mental interaction addiction on social media is pervasive in modern society. One literally needs to do somewhere that has no Internet connection and no mobile connection to truly be separated from the digital tools. It helps to be out of the urban areas or the country for that matter where normal connections are just not possible.

The disconnection time is a sensitive point because a patient can easily find something else to replace the original addiction. That doesn’t solve the inherent problem of addiction; it just provides a substitute for the addict. The patient has to be trained to realize how to control needs and focus them on acceptable behaviour.

For example, if a patient has a need for social connection, then he needs to be taught how to go about that in real time with real people. That includes approach, mannerisms, rebuilding face-to-face communication skills, understanding a listener’s body behaviour, and knowing when not to press the issue. This relearning of soft skills become a critical step in the recovery of a social media addict returning to the real world.

Social Media Addiction: In Summary

Facebook addicts are going to be more and more common as each generation grows in today and tomorrow’s technology. There are whole age groups now who see nothing wrong with posting their entire life online every day and expecting the same from others. The results can be life-changing, influencing a person’s career, how they interact with others, and their mental state and self-image. Failure to recognize the power of this condition will result in far more online addiction problems going forward.

In some respects, the fuss over Facebook itself being responsible for digital addiction is very similar to the blame put on rock bands for their records in the 1970s and 1980s. The tool for entertainment exists, but the user and listener still have to be responsible for their actions. The behaviour is an addiction, but to break the problem a user has to recognize his real need and then find a way to meet them properly outside of social media.

Social media addiction is a serious condition and it affects the lives of people everywhere even without them noticing. It is time we all stood up to the negative effects of  Social Media Addiction now!