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Addiction is a very serious disease, and to call inappropriate use of social media an addition is to take it too lightly

February 27, 2023

The widespread use of social media raises concerns about the social repercussions it can have, especially for young people. While the general opinion is to consider social media dangerous and addictive, the empirical evidence at this time does not support the use of these terms.

Dr. Xavier Carbonell, professor and researcher specialized in the field of addiction psychology, together with Dr. Tayana Panova, academic researcher in psychology, communication and new technologies, penned the chapter "Social Media Addiction", in the book Behavioral Addictions, in the Studies in Neuroscience, Psychology and Behavioral Economics series. To coincide with this publication, we have interviewed Dr. Carbonell, professor in the field of addiction psychology at the School of Psychology, Education and Sport Sciences.

Are we addicted to social media?

Our publication reflects on the supposed addiction to social media. We argue that this expression is used too liberally. Addiction is a very serious disease, and to call inappropriate or excessive use of social media an addition is, technically, to take the issue too lightly.

So the problem lies in the term addiction.

We think it is premature to use this term. A phase of adaptation to these social media is still needed. We come from a world where communication was basically face to face, and this is changing in all spheres. We have to adapt to this new type of communication.

Are there no consequences of this new way of communicating?

It is very interesting to study the social repercussions in terms of communication, habits, self-image or self-concept that the use of social media can have, but not in terms of addiction. On the other hand, you can talk about video game addiction.

Is social media harmless?

The use of social media may have some impact on how people modulate their image and communicate, on what services in society will become important or on how the concept of friendship evolves, rather than on addiction itself.

Is there an age group that is more "affected" by these repercussions?

Everyone likes to look at young people as they tend to serve as scapegoats, but the changing communication styles affect all ages and strata of society. The more we use these digital media, the more changes we will see. To give an easy example, grandparents love having photos of their grandchildren. Before, communication meant talking, face to face, with hugs, affectionate words, etc., and then we moved to phone conversations, and now they use WhatsApp. In other words, this revolution is spreading everywhere, with more or less intensity.

Has the way we relate to each other changed?

What is changing is the type of skills that are being used. In any case, possibly very soon, all this will disappear, because with the metaverse the concept of a social network will be outdated. The point is that these changes have some positive and some negative effects. Social media only captures and reflects how we are living. We are living differently, and that makes communication different, just as food and many other things change. For some people, it will bring positive changes, and for others, negative ones.

Is there a manual of best practices in the use of social media?

The concept of social media is very ambiguous. When we talk about social networks, some people think of Instagram, others think of LinkedIn, and others think of TikTok. ResearchGate is popular among scientists, for example. Every network reaches a different age group and cultural level, which means that each one requires a different approach and handling.

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