Social media addiction, until recently has not yet been classified as a pathological dysfunction or a designated mental health disorder.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) will list video gaming as a disorder this year. This research gap was addressed by Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University.
While talking about the perils of excessive use of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Griffiths said: “Screentime isn’t necessarily an accurate gauge for whether someone is using their favourite platforms problematically”.
When asked about the harms overuse of social media, he said, “I do think it can be potentially addictive.”
In his research, Griffiths explains that a technological compulsion like ‘social media addiction’ comes with all the behavioural signals that we might usually associate with chemical addictions, such as smoking or alcoholism. These include mood changes, social withdrawal, conflict and relapse.
The most imperative factor is a person’s ability to distinguish between the healthy and unhealthy use of social media, and to watch out for the negative impacts it has on their life.
“If I take video gaming, for example, I’ve come across a lot of very excessive gamers,” Griffiths explains, adding, “But there’s little known negative, detrimental effects in their life. If they did that for two years then maybe obesity or being generally sedentary might bring on some health issues but in terms of addiction? Excessive enthusiasms add to life and addictions take away from it.”
This alludes to the fact that screen-time is not an accurate indicator for whether someone is using social media in a pathologically detrimental way. In a poll conducted by BBC Future on Twitter, it was found that there was little consensus on what users regarded as ‘too much’ time spent on social media.
Bearing in mind the limitations of using a self-selecting sample, over 40 per cent of the 554 who took the poll, voted that more than two to three hours was too much. Considering the fact that many people spend more time than that, using social media, it is not befitting to tailor addiction with screen-time.
To explore a more valid indicator and to find an accurate correlation, Griffiths and his colleague, Daria Kuss published their first-ever, review paper on the Social Networking Sites (SNS). Dealing with the dearth of research on addiction and SNS, they tracked behaviours. They found that extroverts appear to use these sites for social enhancement, whereas introverts use them for social compensation. They also found that more time spent on these sites involved less involvement with real-life communities.
Building on their work, they published another overview paper, they found that increase in engagement leads to dysphoric mood states, sometimes leading to psychological dependency.
Last year, a national survey in the United Kingdom found that young and single women showed more addictive behaviours. Other variables include the tendency to have lower levels of education, income and self-esteem.
According to Griffiths, the potential for SNS addiction lies in the content and the context of excessive use as opposed to the time spent. However, the exact extremes of both factors still remain puzzling.
He added: “It could be to do with Fomo, the fear of missing out. Smartphone addiction might also be a part of it, as well as nomophobia – the fear of not having your phone with you at all times. More importantly, the data on SNS research is skewed towards Facebook, little is available about photo-based platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.”
This article originally appeared on BBC Future.