When Ivo Beitsma first signed up for a Facebook account about six years ago, he was so excited about the possibilities, he spent 24 hours straight online, adding friends and learning its features.
He estimates between work and pleasure, he spends five or six hours on the social networking site each day – Beitsma helps businesses run social media campaigns and he promotes his own company, Salt of Life, through Facebook, as well as using it to connect with friends and others.
“I like to connect with people,” said Beitsma. “I’m a highly social person, I crave social interaction. I end up doing that online almost by default.”
Facebook is an excellent tool for making connections and sharing information, but he thinks it is possible for someone to overuse it to the point where it is negatively impacting their life.
“If it’s adversely affecting your life, your work, relationships, that’s probably addiction,” said Beitsma. “It’s kind of a balance.”
The concept of social media addiction has surfaced in recent months and researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway have even gone so far as to develop a new instrument to measure Facebook addiction.
In an e-mailed response, Cecilie Andreassen, a researcher in the department of psychosocial science, said the Facebook addiction scale was developed because Facebook addiction is a specific form of Internet addiction and the scale may add value to future addiction research and practice in this area.
Mark Ring, a private practice counsellor who has worked as an addictions counsellor in Vancouver, Whistler and Nanaimo, said people can get addicted to almost anything.
“Could people become addicted to social media? Probably,” he said. “Can you quit when there are negative consequences? That’s the test.”
Addictions form by doing something too much, especially if people are doing it to avoid problems, said Ring.
In the social media context, if someone has poor attachments to people in real life, they could be using social media to overcome the anxiety this causes, he said.
“It comes down to the basic human need for attachment to other people,” said Ring.
While Beitsma doesn’t know anyone he would consider addicted to social media, he said it could be hard to tell who is addicted and who is just using it to make their lives more efficient since it is used for so many purposes. A few of the ways he uses Facebook include: marketing a business, organizing events, self-expression, communicating with friends or business contacts and working on projects as a group without having to be in the same room.
He would like to see a program that allows people to separate business and personal use of Facebook, as one thing he struggles with is getting distracted by friends posting pictures or responses to a conversation thread while working.
Don Power, a local social media speaker and consultant, also believes social media addiction is possible.
“I do know anecdotally people who seem to have traded in their offline world for their online world,” he said, adding that he’s lost touch with one friend except through social media.
“It’s less visible,” said Power. “The harm really is people’s time. If there is such a phenomenon, it’s still probably fairly rare.”
Social media is always on, things are always happening and much like gambling, people are drawn in with the anticipation of a payoff, which in this case is people interacting with them, reacting to things they put out there, he said.
“It’s the anticipation, the curiosity of what’s next,” said Power.
For him, the benefits outweigh the negatives.
“By participating in social media, you see opportunities that you would never encounter otherwise,” said Power.
Power, who teaches businesses and individuals to use social media effectively and manage online time, said there are tools to help people manage their time on social media sites, such as a tool that automatically disconnects your Twitter account after a certain hour.
Cassandra Elphinstone, who graduated from Dover Bay Secondary School in June and heads to the University of B.C. in September, has chosen only to use Facebook to contact acquaintances who live far away.
“I like to see the real side of people – the person who comes across when you meet them, not just someone who’s presented an image of themselves on the Internet,” she said. “So many people see it as an entire world, I don’t think they experience the rest of the world as a result.”
Elphinstone thinks that a lot of the information about people on social media sites, such as what they had for dinner, is unnecessary and many face-to-face conversations are getting shallower because people are limited to such short conversations online.
Many of her peers appear dependent on social media to a certain extent, she added.
“If their parents told them they can’t go on Facebook all week, they complain about it all the time,” said Elphinstone. “They talk about how they can’t stop doing these things. But they get over it quickly, too.”