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Something’s Gone Viral – It can’t kill but it can harm!

Someone asked me where we can find the largest pool of ‘clever and intelligent’ people. I told him …try social media

A clever riposte spotted on Facebook that shows the underlying motivation of how everyone takes to social media. From the serial WhatsApp forwarder to the frequent ego-tripping Facebook and Instagram postmaster, everyone wants to be clever or seen to be clever.

The dopamine-induced ego-boosting feeling of being clever is the cause for the prevalent social media addiction that has gone viral.

How many of us have the tendency to reach out for our smartphones the first thing in the morning (now a popular catchphrase after the Prasarana presser debacle) to check WhatsApp messages, Facebook or Instagram posts?

Or how frequently do we take peek-breaks in between work to check the Likes and the Reactions to our Posts? Or how often are we glued to scrolling social media sites at the dining table or in meet-ups? Or how restless we get when our phones are low or out-of-batt(ery)?

The answers are likely to be “Yes” for all the above. Like it or not, it is social media addiction. Only the degree of addiction differs. The degree of addiction, simply put, is the extent of the inability to reduce the consumption of social media.

Just like any addiction, the initial attraction is fun, relaxing, entertaining… Then, the ‘feel good’ feeling develops into desire to want more and more.

The science of it is that as one indulges in social media, positive reaction or feedback to social media posts and comments stimulate the brain to release dopamine, which as neurotransmitters (the body’s chemical messengers), increase pleasure fulfillment. Such social rewards are remembered. The next time one is pleasure seeking or feels down, one will be inclined to seek out the pleasure-rewarding source. This perpetuates the social media habit and addiction.

In addition to this pleasure inducing attraction, there some other key underlying factors that that add up to social media addiction.

In an article on Social Media Addiction in Teens and Young Adults, Paradigm Treatment dedicated to providing teens, young adults and their families with mental health treatment points to Self Esteem, or more correctly, the lack of self-esteem.

Social media does work on what one lacks in comparison with others. The glam of other people’s life – the food, the holiday, the house décor, the lifestyle etc – are alluring and exciting. That makes one feel less attractive, inadequate and outclassed but, in contrast, stirs up one’s social competitiveness to want.

Social Anxiety is another factor that leads up to addiction. Particularly for those who struggle to socialise in real life, social media is heaven-sent. It provides the ideal environment to self-express and communicate. Without the social anxiety of hang ups of being under watchful eyes of a person physically present, it is easy for one to plunge headlong into social media and eventually can’t have enough of it.

The lockdown may be the good time to take stock of the degree of one’s addiction to social media. We just need to be mindful of our habitual tendencies and record every single act of our compulsive behaviour. Look at the tally after a period of time and we will have an idea of the degree of our addiction.

Then we come to weaning ourselves of the social media habit.

Kristeen Cherney in her article “What Is Social Media Addiction?” shared the following tips to achieve the balance with social media:

  • Delete your social media apps from you smartphones and access from other devices. If you think that’s too harsh, at least set yourself a schedule for you to access it.

  • Turn off your personal phone when you are focusing on work or study. If you don’t have another spare phone for work, then adjust the notification settings. The notifications that pop up may distract you!

  • Leave your phone out of your bedroom. Have a peaceful sleep without distraction.

Social media creeped into our lives and for some, took control of their lives to a certain extent. We can win back control with the above simple steps. It boils down to whether we recognise and accept the causes and want to do something about it.

Undoubtedly, use it well and social media can be useful rather than become something that can be harmful tool to use in the long run.


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