Time to Log Out: How FOMO is Driving Social Media Addiction

Too much of anything is never good for you, but social media seems to come with a pulling power to keep users wanting more, leaving many helplessly hooked before they know it.

The sight of people constantly staring down at their smartphones in public – and even in the company of others – has now become so common that society almost regard it as a norm. While it would be unfair to put a blanket over the whole generation, it is a fair assessment to say that there is a good portion of young people across different continents are using social media excessively – with some suffering from a genuine problem of addiction.

This pulling power of social media  have grown significantly over the last few years, as social media has evolved from merely a place where people socialize, but also to indulge in lifestyle and commerce activities – a place anything and everything from shoes purchases and mattress comparisons and beauty tutorials and holiday reviews.

The fact is that almost everyone is on social media and almost everything is happening on it. This unfortunately is both the cause and result of some people’s addiction to it.

According to a recent statistic, 3.1 billion people — roughly one-third of the global population — use social media. Globally, the number of social media users has grown by 13% (362 million) in the past year.

Increasingly, social media is also accessed on the go. Of the world’s social media users, 2.9 billion are active mobile social media users (94% of all users on social media platforms).

It has also been estimates that over 210 million people suffer from internet and social media addictions worldwide.

The addictive aspect of social networking, many experts have pointed out, is associated with FOMO — fear of missing out.

According to Tarsha (2016), FOMO is defined as, “The fears, worries, and anxieties people may have in relation to being in (or out of) touch with the events, experiences, and conversations happening across their extended social circles.”

In the realm of social media, FOMO can be roughly explained in this way: Everybody is on Facebook because everybody is on Facebook. Even the people who don’t like Facebook use it anyway, because that’s where their family, friends and colleagues are. Not being on it creates anxiousness. Once they are not it, it becomes necessary for them to constantly check their feed and also to post updates, simply to stay connected and relevant. All this is driven by a fear of disconnect from their network.

Once a person is in this mode, it is very difficult to step out of it.

An interesting research published by Cornell Information Science looked at the difficulty some people have in quitting Facebook and other social networks, using data from a site called 99DaysofFreedom.com, which encourages people to stop using Facebook for 99 days.

The site and study are interesting because they revealed the difficulty people have quitting Facebook because of addiction. Participants intended to quit, wanted to quit and believed they could quit (for 99 days), but many couldn’t make more than a few days.

While it would be silly to blame social media platforms for this situation, they can not exactly be deemed innocent either.

Almost all social media sites are designed to hook people in and keep them hooked in.

One of the ways of doing this is through the use of the notification number, both on the app icon and also on top of your phone. This plays a psychological trick on the users mind, the way clickbait headlines do. The notifications are there to draw people in. It makes you feel there is information you really want to know, though in truth, that is not always the case.

Then there is also the algorithmic filtering used by Facebook, Instagram and now also Twitter – something that has annoyed plenty of users, but has been a breakthrough for the social media companies. These platforms tweak the algorithm for their users feed and then monitor the response of users to see if those tweaks kept them on the site longer or increased their engagement.

The problem needs addressing and experts have offered inputs on ways to deal with the issue.

In an article published on Psychology Today, it is suggested that the governments must play their part in minimizing and (in some cases) prohibiting the use of mobile devices. This has been implemented in smaller scales by organizations such as schools and workplaces to address the loss of productivity in their respective settings.

Just as important is instilling digital literacy and awareness of the effects of excessive social media use, particularly among youths. This is something that the social media companies can be actively involved in as a form of social responsibility. Other than providing content to raise the awareness of social media addiction, the companies could also compile and share behavioral data to identify excessive users and provide strategies to limit time spent on their products.

What is important to note when trying to treat this type of addiction is that the goal should be controlled use rather than total abstinence. Aiming for a complete boycott of social media may prove to be counterproductive and is very hard to do given our attachment to the smartphone. So the message not to stop completely, but to reduce usage time and improve self control.

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