The term “social media addiction” is nowadays increasingly used to describe people who spend a lot of time on websites and apps.
Although, not same as an addiction to substance abuse, this too is related to behavioural “addictions” as it definitely resonates with certain characterisations and vicious cycle of most common addictions.
A study compiled by experts from Australia’s University of Technology Sydney has listed 46 side-effects that social media addiction can cause amongst its users.
The study entitled The Dark Side of Using Online Social Networks: A Review of Individuals’ Negative Experiences, consisting of data from over 50 research articles spanning from 2003 and 2018, was recently published in the Journal of Global Information Management.
Dr Eila Erfani, Layla Boroon, and Associate Professor Babak Abedin (Macquarie University) conducted the research and collated the range of negative effects of social media use.
Layla Boroon, a PhD candidate at the University of Technology Sydney, says:
“Much of the research on social network use has focused on its benefits and potential, but we were interested in comprehensively identifying the negative impacts that have been associated with social media use.”
Their extensive list shows that the impacts on users are beyond concerns related to mental health.
Among the 46 listed risks by the experts, dumb jokes, information overload, low job performance, low academic performance, increased appetite for taking financial risks and incitement to suicide emerged as lesser-known risks.
Risks such as panic, irritation, stress, depression, guilt, jealously, loneliness, flaming behaviours and anxiety are something that experts have been warning about for a long time.
Dr Eila Erfani, Deputy Head of the UTS School of Information, Systems and Modelling, highlights how social media harm has received less attention.
“Social media harms have mostly been studied from a psychopathological perspective. They have received less attention from information systems researchers.”
These effects range from physical and mental health problems to negative impacts on job and academic performance as well as security and privacy issues.
The researchers grouped the negative effects into six themes:
- Cost of social exchange: includes both psychological harms, such as depression, anxiety or jealousy, and other costs such as wasted time, energy and money
- Annoying content: includes a wide range of content that annoys, upsets or irritates, such as disturbing or violent content or sexual or obscene content
- Privacy concerns: includes any threats to personal privacy related to storing, repurposing or sharing personal information with third parties
- Security threats: refers to harms from fraud or deception such as phishing or social engineering
- Cyberbullying: includes any abuse or harassment by groups or individuals such as abusive messages, lying, stalking or spreading rumours
- Low performance: refers to negative impact on job or academic performance.
The teams says that the next step in this area is to develop and test applications, design features and other solutions that can reduce these negative effects.
At present, there are more than three billion users of Facebook and Instagram, two billion users of Twitter, and one billion users of TikTok who might be the potential target of these harmful effects.
The researchers believe that greater awareness of the potential dangers can encourage user moderation.
They further add that this awareness can also help software engineers, educators and policymakers to develop various practical ways to minimise the negative effects of social media.