The Negative Effects of Facebook: Addiction, Social Isolation and Depression


Facebook is great for communication, networking and planning events. It is a social media platform that was designed to connect people and clearly it achieves this in a number of ways. However, Facebook’s utility and popularity often masks its more psychologically damaging aspects, of which there seems to be three: addiction, social isolation and depression.

A study by Andreassen et al. (2012), published in Psychological Reports, developed a ‘Facebook Addiction Scale’. In the study, a group of Facebook users were asked a series of questions and if their answer to at least four of the questions was ‘often’ or ‘very often’, these users were deemed to be addicts. The participant was asked to answer how often the following have happened during the last year:

·      Spent a lot of time thinking about Facebook or planned use of Facebook?
·      Used Facebook in order to forget about personal problems?
·      Felt an urge to use Facebook more and more?
·      Become restless or troubled if you have been prohibited from using Facebook?
·      Used Facebook so much that it has had a negative impact on your job/studies?
·      Tried to cut down on the use of Facebook without success?

Again, if four out of six of these questions are answered with ‘often or ‘very often’, then a harmless Facebook habit is no longer harmless, but an addiction. Indeed, you can remove the word ‘Facebook’ from each of the questions and replace it with anything else which is habit-forming – gambling, sex, drugs – and the respective answers will also be a good indication of an addiction.

Personally, I could probably answer two or three of the questions with ‘often’, so I wouldn’t have a Facebook Addiction Disorder (FAD), a term which is gaining popularity, but I might still have a Facebook habit. The fact that I feel a compulsion to check Facebook constantly and have trouble going one day without it suggests that I probably do have a Facebook habit. I’m sure it’s the same for millions of other Facebook users. For a minority, the situation is a lot worse. Some people do not just feel compelled to use Facebook, but their Facebook use has become so out of control that it interferes with work, studies, relationships and normal social functioning. This is the point when a habit turns into an addiction or a pathological disorder.

A habit is not without negative effects as well. Feeling a compulsion to use Facebook, becoming restless without it and being unable to cut down on how often you use it can stop you from doing more fulfilling activities. There was a point when I intentionally limited myself to use Facebook once a day, only to check for messages from friends or for updates on future events. I maintained it for a while, but it was a conscious effort. Now I’ve found myself getting back into the habit of scrolling down the News Feed, wasting my time looking into other people’s lives and gaining nothing positive from it. This time could be better spent.

In a study conducted by Diana Tamir from Harvard University, it was found through fMRI scans that disclosing information about oneself is intrinsically rewarding. Using social media sites can be addictive because they allow us to do exactly this. This study provides evidence for the theory that individuals place a high subjective value on opportunities to communicate their thoughts and feelings to others and that doing so acts on the reward systems in our brain. The fMRI scans revealed that this kind of self-disclosure does in fact release dopamine (the ‘pleasure chemical’) in our brain. I wouldn’t be surprised if future studies found that there is a release of dopamine when one receives a notification on Facebook. We might automatically register the notification as a response to our thoughts and feelings and dopamine could be released as a result.

Another negative effect of Facebook, which in a way stems from the problem of habitual use and addiction, is social isolation. The irony of Facebook is that it is a force for greater isolation and loneliness, as well as greater connectivity. Sure, Facebook can allow us to communicate with old friends, classmates and people from all over the world, but the nature of interaction on Facebook is conducive to more social isolation. Instead of face-to-face interaction with people we know well, we are content with cyber-interaction with people we don’t know that well.

And even if we are interacting with close friends and family on Facebook, this is still no substitute for real life social interactions; the kind which our mind is geared towards. The problem with habitual or addictive Facebook use is that many people do come to accept this as a substitute. The more time we spend on the artificial social world of Facebook, the more isolated we will become. We are a social species and we depend on hearing another’s voice and seeing each other’s facial expressions and body language for proper human interaction. Facebook and other social media platforms just don’t meet these requirements.

Furthermore, as future generations begin to use Facebook at a younger age, social skills which are picked up from face-to-face interaction will become harder to develop. Could social media therefore be partly to blame for the rise in cases of social anxiety? That said, similar worries were voiced about the telephone. I think that social media definitely can (and does) make a lot of us more socially isolated, but this does not mean that it cannot be used responsibly and in a beneficial way. This study, for example, concludes that Facebook is useful because it can create and maintain 'social capital' (networks of relationships) and actually contribute to psychological well-being in this way. 

The most obvious way in which Facebook socially isolates us is the way in which we obsessively go on Facebook on our smartphones. In social situations, even with our closest friends and family members, we almost instinctively reach for our smartphone to check the latest updates on Facebook. Our attention is then glued to this screen, feeding us this cyber-reality and everything else around us becomes non-existent. I’m no exception to this. But I still recognise how unnatural and depressing it is when a group of people are sitting in a room or at a restaurant or at an event, and all are silently peering into the lives of people they barely know. Conversation and social skills are being eroded by social media and smartphones. This increase in social isolation is psychologically harmful to us – being the social species that we are – and it can result in us becoming more depressed.

Facebook can give us instant gratification through self-disclosure and checking notifications, but the social isolation that results can make us depressed in the long-term. There is some evidence that links Facebook use to low life satisfaction. A study by Ethan Kross et al. (2013) published in PLS One found that the more that people used Facebook, the worse their subjective well-being was. Interacting with other people directly (face-to-face or by phone) was not linked to these negative subjective feelings. Another study by researchers from two German universities suggests that Facebook-related depression is caused by envy. The authors argue that Facebook is an engine for creating envy on an unprecedented scale.

Facebook creates a false picture of reality in which users are bombarded by photos and updates which give them the impression that everyone is living a much better life than they are. Not many people share photos or information which puts their life in a negative light. Facebook stirs up such an intense feeling of envy, the researchers argue, that it can negatively affect the life satisfaction of users; especially passive users. People who don’t use Facebook that often, except to read the posts and view the photos of others, are likely to become more envious, frustrated and have lower self esteem than more involved users. Most envied were the holiday photos that people post, followed by social interactions, such as a friend getting more birthday wishes than you did. This is different from normal face-to-face relations, where envy results from the success, talents and possessions of others. On Facebook, envy can proliferate much more easily and can make people feel much worse about their own lives. In conclusion, Facebook, like all technological advances, has benefits and risks; it just depends on how we use it. 

15 comments:

  1. Thank you, needed this for debating

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  2. thank u.. helpful for ma presentation

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. thank you helped me with my essay

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  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  6. Thank you very much

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. this is nicely done. Thank you for elaborating some points, helps a lot in our argumentative research paper

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  9. Thanks for publishing this.it probably took you days to make this wonderful presentation.you have explained your pints very well.i am grade 4 and I am making a speech.now that I have read it,I feel anticipation when making my grade4 speech.really helpful!

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  10. thanks
    perfect points for my debate

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  11. In the study, a group of Facebook users were asked a series of questions and if their answer to at least four of the questions was ‘often’ or ‘very often’, these users were deemed to be addicts. The participant was asked to answer how often the following have happened during the last year: https://mindfulnessmavericks.co.uk

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  12. thank you very much I got all the points I needed to support my statement

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  13. We find out many thing by means of social media. We become more socialized through getting to know more people, finding out about events and such. Far from everybody sees the real danger of social networks though. They cause addiction, jealousy, depression, isolation of sorts and even suicide at some extra difficult cases.
    Facebook is not that easy as it seems to be at first. Consider all the minuses of such kind of a social life before you create an account.

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  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

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I'm a freelance writer who is interested in a variety of subjects, especially those which are philosophical, complex and involve a multitude of perspectives. I created this blog in order to share my thoughts, and to encourage debate and discussion about the most fascinating topics I can think of. Get in touch: samwoolfe@gmail.com