Throughout 2020, social media has continued to grow and many would say it has become a vital part of their lives, offering an outlet to communicate with friends and stay engaged with the outside world.
Is there such a thing as too much social media? And are we spending too much time online? Research has shown that the average internet user spends two hours a day on various social media sites. But does scrolling through endless feeds on Facebook and Instagram and watching the latest viral videos on TikTok make us social media addicts?
To find out more, Sputnik spoke with Martin Graff, a senior lecturer in psychology of relationships at the University of South Wales.
Sputnik: Can too much social media be damaging?
Martin Graff: Damaging is a very kind-of-loaded word. I think we know it can have perhaps some kind of detrimental effects, in certain respects. And you'll lead into maybe kind of lowered levels of self-esteem or, at least, there's a connection between self-esteem and social media use. It may well be that people with low self-esteem increase their social media use, not that social media use leads to low self-esteem. So, it could be that as well. We've also found things like a connection between social media use in women, at least on what we call teen idealisation, motivation to exercise then for the purpose of improving your looks. So whether it can be sort of damaging, I think, needs a lot more assessment.
Sputnik: Is social media addiction real?
Martin Graff: So, we don't think it's a real addiction. In as much as there are very kind-of-specific components to addictions, such as your loss of control, perhaps, needing to do it more and more, for example, and crucially, that kind of withdrawal, which you would get with other addictions, such as drug addictions, those kind of unpleasant side effects when you stop using it. So there's no evidence to suggest that, you know, that those kind of things are prevalent in social media use, and therefore probably it's not addictive in the same way.
Sputnik: So it's not like a drug, alcohol or gambling addiction, but more of a loss of time or time consuming?
Martin Graff: Well, I mean, anything which interferes with your life, in terms of you're spending more and more time doing that, than, you know, living your life sort of properly, dare I say, can be damaging. But there's no evidence to suggest, you know, we're using this in the same way. It is more likely that we probably use it through what we call 'variable ratio', or intermittent reinforcement or rewards. So people get likes and so on, and get mentioned in social media. And therefore, you know, that is the motivation to use it more than anything else.
Sputnik: What do you consider to be the main driving forces behind our use of social media today?
Martin Graff: It’s more to do with getting likes on social media, and we get those likes on a kind of intermittent irregular basis if we post things, which keeps us checking back. It's the same kind of principle that you get with gambling that you know people win every so often, we can't predict when we're going to win. And it's the same kind of kind of reinforcement we get through social media. The more we get likes, and we get mentioned we get those on a kind of intermittent, irregular, unpredictable basis.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.