DUBAI // Excessive Facebook use can lead to neurotic behaviour, obsession and alienation, new research suggests.
A survey of Facebook users around the world, including the UAE, showed obsessive checking was a key problem, with 47.2 per cent of people monitoring their accounts at least five times a day – and many even more.
Of the 339 respondents, almost half said they used Facebook at work, those in lower-income groups were more likely to become addicted, and men were more frequent users than women.
The study by the Lahore School of Economics aimed to establish what personality traits were strongly linked to social media use.
Researcher and publisher Tania Hasan said users most commonly showed traits of neuroticism and agreeableness.
“Agreeable people generally are more trusting, flexible, cooperative and tolerant. They need the environment where they can execute their personality to crave social interaction and acceptance,” she said.
“Facebook is perfect for that as it reaches a large number of people instantly. It feeds that craving. If someone is sitting at home or at work alone, they can connect with their friends and receive that gratification and acceptance.”
Linda Bonnar, a former teacher who published a coaching manual to help young people deal with stress, said parents should be aware of social media’s effects.
“Many of the young people I know who have moved on to universities internationally use Facebook as a means of keeping in touch with their friends,” said Ms Bonnar, who taught at Dubai’s Jumeirah College. “The negatives are comparisons to the lives of others, particularly if we’re feeling down about our own current situation.”
Researchers found those scoring highly for neuroticism used online forums to reduce loneliness and create a sense of belonging. Those with an agreeable personality were more likely to become addicted.
Neurotics are more likely to be moody and experience anxiety, worry, fear, anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, guilt, depression and loneliness.
Global Media Insight, a Dubai-based digital marketing agency, says the UAE now has more than 8.7 million Facebook users. The largest group is between ages 18 and 29, with 4.1 million users, while there are 210,000 between 13 and 17.
Dr Dalia Rizk, a specialist psychiatrist at the International Modern Hospital, Dubai, said while social media use could not damage mental health alone, it could contribute. “Exposure to highly idealised representations of peers on Facebook elicits feelings of envy, low self-esteem and the distorted assumptions that others lead happier, more successful lives,” she said.
“Spending more time on social media increases the exposure to cyber-bullying, fuels internet addiction and makes teenagers compare themselves with others. As a result, those vulnerable to depression start to express signs and symptoms of the disorder.
“Heavy Facebook use without proper social connections in the real world can actually enhance symptoms in clinically depressed teenagers and prevent them to ask for proper help.”
Ms Bonnar said excessive use could result in reduced academic performance for younger users.
“Increased use of social media will eventually result in reduced sleep hours and consequently deteriorating performance in studies,” she said.
Google’s Jigsaw project is using machine learning to topple online harassment. Perspective, an application generated by Google’s technology team to counter abuse, automatically detects abusive speech online.
Twitter is using language processing through artificial intelligence to tackle bad behaviour.
The study was published in the Journal of Organisational Studies and Innovation.