Facebook has rapidly become the most popular social media site in the nation, trumping all other interactive social sites with a staggering 1.59 billion average monthly users.
72 percent of American adults who spend any amount of time online log onto Facebook at least once a month – 65 percent of monthly Facebook users admit to checking their pages daily. And as it (unsurprisingly) turns out, the ‘social media’ generation is by far the most involved – 91 percent of millennials (aged 15-34) log onto the social site multiple times per day. 91 percent!
So essentially – everyone is on Facebook all of the time. Daily Facebook users will scroll their feeds for an average of 20 minutes per day. This comes out to slightly over 2 hours per week mindlessly spent on the pervasive social media platform. The most disturbing part of this is, however, that many individuals who spend an ample amount of time on the social site find it impossible to stop on their own will.
The Facebook Culture
Cornell University recently conducted a study called ’99 Days of Freedom’, during which they asked participants to voluntarily disengage from the site for a whopping 99 days. More than 40,000 individuals took the pledge at the time the study was originally published, in June of 2014. The commitment of users was based solely on the honor code, and it was quickly discovered that nearly no one could make it the entire 99 days without crumbling under the pressure of hilarious memes, sarcastic status updates, and cringe-worthy ‘epic fail’ videos.
Okay, so people spend what could be considered ‘a little too much time’ browsing Facebook. But this doesn’t mean they’re addicted. Addiction entails a detrimental inability to cease use of a particular substance or discontinue the engagement in a harmful behavioral pattern despite apparent consequences. And while some may find it difficult to disconnect for more than a few hours, no real harm is being done… right?
Facebook Proves Deadly in Some Cases – Like, For Real
It has been estimated that nearly 27 percent of Americans check their Facebook pages regularly while they are driving. A Huffington Post article published in April, 2014 detailed the fatal, Facebook-related car accident that claimed the life of a North Carolina woman. Courtney Ann Sanford had been posting profile updates and taking selfies immediately prior to the crash. In March, 2012, a teenager from Idaho was killed in a head-on collision, moments after posting to the site, “Facebook and driving is not safe!” Ironic, but also indicative of a nationwide problem that has contributed to countless motor vehicle-related fatalities over the course of the past several years. Are people simply irresponsible behind the wheel, or could this disturbing trend suggest a greater national issue?
Many addiction specialists have begun referring to Facebook addiction as ‘a new clinical disorder’. One American psychologist refers to the condition as Facebook Addiction Disorder, or FAD. One who suffers from FAD spends so much time on the social media platform that the essential balance of his or her life becomes affected, and consequences begin to steadily accumulate. It has been estimated that upwards of 350 million Americans currently suffer from Facebook Addiction Disorder to some degree. In order for one to be officially diagnosed, he or she must exhibit at least 2-3 of the following 6 criteria during a 6 to 8-month period of time.
Criteria for Facebook Addiction Disorder
When referring to other cases of addiction, increased tolerance suggests that a greater amount of the substance or time spent engaging in the behavior is required in order to produce the desired effect. An alcoholic, for example, must consume more alcohol once tolerance begins to develop in order to feel as ‘drunk’ as he or she used to feel after consuming one or two alcoholic beverages. An addictive gambler may begin betting with greater sums of money in order to feel the rush that he or she used to feel when betting much smaller sums. The Facebook addict may spend an increasing amount of time on the site, or may need to acquire a greater amount of post likes or engagements in order to feel the same sense of satisfaction as he or she initially felt.
Those who suffer from FAD will likely experience negative emotional symptoms if they are unable to access Facebook for an extended period of time. They will likely experience symptoms such as anxiety, distress, restlessness, and preoccupation. In the absence of Facebook, addicts may spend the majority of their time thinking about the site and planning how they are going to utilize it next.
- Reduction of normal activities.
An individual who is suffering from FAD will begin to reduce the time he or she spends engaging in previously enjoyed social and recreational activities. Some social activities, such as meeting up with a friend for coffee, may even be entirely replaced by Facebook-related pastimes such as online chatting. The majority of interpersonal communication will begin to take place over Facebook. Rather than calling up friends and inquiring as to what is going on in their lives, all information will be sought and revealed via the social site.
- Virtual dates.
Social anxiety is a common symptom of Facebook addiction, and face-to-face dating may seem, for the FAD sufferer, all together too overwhelming. Rather than going out to dinner, an individual afflicted with Facebook addiction may spend hours chatting with a partner online. The necessity of seeking close interpersonal relationships will be steadily replaced by DM’s and link sharing. One who sets up a certain time to ‘meet’ online with his or her partner more often than he or she meets face-to-face with this alleged romantic involvement may in fact be suffering from FAD.
- ‘Fake’ friends.
Those who suffer from this disorder will typically have hundreds of Facebook friends that they have never actually met in real life. The specific criteria suggest that 8 out of every 10 friends remain personally unknown, and the only interaction between the sufferer and these ‘fake friends’ takes place online.
- Related consequences.
The majority of free time throughout the day is spent on Facebook, interacting and engaging and liking and posting and sharing and commenting. Interpersonal relationships begin to suffer. Perhaps performance at work or school is compromised by a constant urge to be online. Personal safety may be readily compromised, such as by those who engage in Facebook use while driving. The user may attempt to cut back on use but find him or herself unable. The user may begin using Facebook more in order to distract him or herself from the reality of related consequences, leading to the exacerbation of a vicious cycle.
Facebook addiction may seem like a stretch, but there have been many documented cases in recent times, and specialists are beginning to agree that FAD is just as legitimate as any other form of behavioral addiction. A Norwegian research team has been actively studying the implications of Facebook addiction for several years, and they have drawn several concrete conclusions regarding the nature of this particular disorder. These researchers have published a psychological scale called the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale (BFAS), used to adequately measure Facebook addiction. Though this scale is one of the very first of its kind worldwide, interest surrounding this subject suggests that many more studies and conclusions are just on the horizon.
If You Need Help, Seek Help
Undeniably, the term ‘addiction’ gets thrown around quite loosely these days. No, Becky, you are not “addicted” to frozen yogurt – you probably just consume more of it than is normal or socially accepted. Chances are, you do spend quite a lot of time on Facebook, and chances are you are merely a microscopic fraction of that whopping 91 percent of like-minded millennials. However, if your seemingly constant Facebook engagement has been leading to minor consequences at work or at home, it may be time to seriously consider removing the app from your phone or attempting to limit your use. And if you find yourself unable to quit despite continued and noble efforts, it may be necessary to seek professional outside help. More often than not, addiction is largely attributed to underlying psychological and emotional issues, and if these issues remain unaddressed and untreated, the likelihood of developing any form of detrimental behavioral pattern is greatly increased.
You’re probably logged into your Facebook account right now – or at least, you were before you clicked on this link. Do you believe that FAD is a legitimate concern, or do you think perhaps that a mockery is being made of more rapidly lethal addictions? Please share your thoughts and opinions below!