Research Highlights Effects of Social Media on Mental Health

A Facebook team researching user well-being found that 1 in 8 users engage in compulsive social media habits that impact work, sleep, parenting or relationships, an analysis of recently released company documents suggests. The potentially harmful behavior, said to be categorized as “problematic use,” is comparable to what is also known as “Internet addiction.” Researchers said while some users lack control over disengaging from Facebook, the behavior isn’t considered “clinical addiction” because it doesn’t impact the brain the same way as habits like gambling or substance abuse. The research also referenced compulsive behavior among users of other social media apps.

Facebook’s research team noted that a variety of activities, including “Facebook use, when repetitive and excessive, may cause problems for some people.”

Those problems include “a loss of productivity when people stop completing tasks in their lives to check Facebook frequently, a loss of sleep when they stay up late scrolling through the app and the degradation of in-person relationships when people replace time together with time online,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

The documents WSJ relies on to substantiate its reporting indicate that most people who compulsively use Facebook also use other social-media apps, including Twitter and Snapchat, in addition to Facebook sister-companies Instagram and WhatsApp. But an estimated 12.5 percent of Facebook users, or 360 million (of a global total of 2.9 billion) are affected by compulsive use, including 10 percent of users in the U.S..

In India, the company’s largest market, and the Philippines, the percentage of problematic use is higher, at about 25 percent, WSJ says the documents suggest.

According to the article, Facebook came up with, and in some cases implemented, remedies such as encouraging breaks and dialing back notifications. Facebook notes it has been strategizing new efforts to address well-being concerns, including body image and mental health.

“We’ve built tools and controls to help people manage when and how they use our services,” explained spokeswoman Dani Lever. “Furthermore, we have a dedicated team working across our platforms to better understand these issues and ensure people are using our apps in ways that are meaningful to them.”

Meanwhile, a separate WSJ article says since the beginning of the pandemic teen girls have been turning to doctors to treat involuntary physical tics — jerking movements and verbal outbursts symptomatic of Tourette syndrome — after watching TikTok videos of influencers who claim to suffer the nervous-system disorder. The WSJ report says the phenomenon has been documented by “experts at top pediatric hospitals in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the UK.”

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