The Dark Side of Social Media: A Growing Addiction for Millions

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It’s likely a surprise to no one at this point, but it’s an undeniable fact: social media, and the internet at large, can be addicting for many people.

The American Psychological Association, which creates the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, was very close to including “internet addiction disorder” in its DSM-V last year. While it didn’t make the cut, “internet gaming disorder” did, as internet games have been found to create a drug addiction-like effect in the brain.

Kids need to go outside and get plenty of physical activity — but they just aren’t getting nearly enough. Even spending time at summer camps can help a lot. In fact, according to the American Camp Association, 92% of campers said that the people at camp helped them feel good about themselves.

Of teens ages 12 to 17, 70 percent spend time on social media on any given day, which amounts to 17 million teen users daily.
Of teens ages 12 to 17, 70 percent spend time on social media on any given day, which amounts to 17 million teen users daily.

But social media, widely used by the world’s population, has its own addictive qualities, and by 2011, 54 percent of users for sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram described themselves as “addicts” to these platforms.

One independent survey from CASA Columbia found that teenagers are especially susceptible to the addiction of social media. Of teens ages 12 to 17, 70 percent spend time on social media on any given day, which amounts to 17 million teen users daily. But teens aren’t the only ones using such websites.

Facebook is by far the most popular of these mediums, with over 1.06 billion active users throughout the entire globe — over 15 percent of the world’s population. Instagram, a photo editing and sharing platform, has over 8,000 “likes” per second and at least 75 million active users daily.

Those likes themselves can be a source for this addiction, according to some research. One report from New York Magazine noted the influence that likes, follows, and online popularity can have on some of these users. Likes create a sense of belonging and confidence for some. But while a lack of likes on “selfies” can lead to lower self esteem, an overabundance of them can result in this dependency.

Harvard University studied the addictive qualities of social media, concluding that users sharing information about themselves on sites such as Facebook engaged the area of the brain associated with pleasure, similar to brain activity during acts such as eating, sexual intercourse, and receiving money. While online behavior can bring pleasure to the user, however, there is a dark side to the dependency on these online interactions.

There are several signs that a person can use to gauge whether or not a person has an unhealthy relationship to social media sites. Such signs include using social networks for an extended period of time, lying about the amount of time spent on such sites, and physical effects of addiction (weight loss or gain, stiffness, sleep deprivation, anxiety, or carpal tunnel syndrome). Other signs could include feelings of loneliness and depression offline and feelings of guilt while online and disproportionate emotional reactions to online activity.

There is an easy solution, however, and all it can involve is the push of a power button. Mental health experts and others agree that it’s good to get away from technology every now and then.¬†Being “off the grid,” so to speak, can feel like taking a vacationfrom the day-to-day grind, and it can promote the recharging and relaxation that many of us need.

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