Social network sites: A new type of addiction?
Social networking sites (SNS) are virtual communities where users can create their own public profiles, interact with real-life friends, and meet other people based on shared interests. Social networking sites are defined by ‘Journal of computer mediated communication’ as web based services that allows individuals to construct with public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. It is known, there are numerous social networking sites available such as Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, My space, the Google plus, Orkut etc.
In terms of social networking sites, the first social networking site was launched in 1997, based on the idea that everybody is linked with everybody else. In 2004, the most successful current social networking site, Facebook, was established as a closed virtual community for Harvard University students. The site expanded very quickly and Facebook currently has around1.11 billion active users (March 2013). In Sri Lanka, there were nearly 1.5 million Facebook users, which make it 74th in the ranking of all Facebook statistics by country in 2012, according to statistics. Social networking sites are seen as a global consumer phenomenon with an exponential rise in usage within the last few years. For introverts SNS is a social compensation and for extroverts it is a social enhancement.
Social network is consumed by users to contact their friends, for educational purposes, to share information, to eliminate loneliness, to contact family members, to create new friends, to watch videos and songs, to share photos, to invite others to an event, to play online games, to talk with others, to know about others, to inform their activities to others and to plan meetings.
A behavioural addiction such as social networking site dependency may be seen from a bio psychosocial perspective. Just like substance-related addictions, social networking sites addiction incorporates the experience of the ‘classic’ addiction symptoms, namely mood modification i.e., engagement in social networking sites leads to a favourable change in emotional states, salience i.e., behavioural, cognitive and emotional preoccupation with the social networking site usage, tolerance i.e., ever increasing use of social networking sites over time, withdrawal symptoms i.e., experiencing unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms when a social networking site use is restricted or stopped, conflict i.e., interpersonal and intra psychic problems ensue because of social networking site usage, and relapse i.e., addicts quickly revert back in their excessive social networking site usage after an abstinence period.Dependency (addiction) on social networking sites is an emerging mental health issue, which interfere with one’s day to day life.
As social networking sites are interactive when the user updates status on his/her wall or upload photos or sharing links, other friends of this user can ‘like’ it or ‘comment’ it. The user waits for others’ feedback curiously and peep into his/her account more frequently to reply them. This makes them anxious. Good comments make them happy. Bad remarks by others make the user depressive, especially if the user has low self-esteem.
The pattern of avoiding face to face contact keeps increasing by the introduction of social networks. This is an improper method of communication. There were reported sexual harassments and privacy problems which seem to be hazardous. Certain amounts of students use social networking sites during lectures, late at nights which may contribute to poor performance.
In conclusion, social network sites become popular among younger populations due to the attraction of its tremendous features and the ability to fulfil many user needs simultaneously. Proper usage method should be followed in order to avoid harmful aspects of social network sites and to harvest better outcome. It is worthy for the parents, lecturers, teachers, mental health professionals and social network sites users themselves to pay more attention to the problematic social network sites usage.