In Excess

Gambling, Gaming and Extreme Behavior

Network Drive

Can Facebook be addictive?

Back in 1995, I published a paper entitled ‘Technological Addictions' that (as far as I am aware) was the first ever paper published using the term to encompass a wide range of activities that involved the potentially addictive use of technology. In that paper, I mainly made reference to slot machine addiction, video game addiction and television addiction (with a cursory mention of internet addiction thrown in for good measure). I never would have predicted that years later I would be writing on topics such as 'social networking addiction'.

Last year saw the publication of a new scale in the journal Psychological Reports that measures 'Facebook Addiction'. The scale was led by a good colleague of mine (Dr. Cecilie Andraessen at the University of Bergen, Norway) who I have have recently been working with on other behavioural addictions (e.g., workaholism, shopaholism).

The measure has been named the ‘Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale’ (BFAS). The scale initially comprised a pool of 18 items, three reflecting each of the six core elements of addiction (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse) that I overviewed in my very first blog. The scale was constructed and administered to 423 students together with several other standardized self-report scales (e.g., including various measures that assess personality and sociability characteristics, attitudes towards Facebook, the Addictive Tendencies Scale and questions about sleep). The items within each of the six addiction elements with the highest correlation were retained in the final scale. Scores on the BFAS converged with scores for other scales of Facebook activity. The scale was also shown to positively relate to various personality traits (e.g., neuroticism, extraversion), and negatively related to others (e.g., conscientiousness). High scores on the new scale were also associated with going to bed very late and getting up very late.

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While I have no problem with the paper by Dr. Andraessen and her colleagues, I believe there are a number of wider issues that require further consideration and comment. As a consequence, I wrote a response to their paper published in the same issue of Psychological Reports—not so much a critique of the paper but a commentary on the field of those working in the area of ‘Facebook addiction.’

Over the last five years, the field of research into online social networking has developed rapidly (there is even a journal—Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking—that publishes papers dedicated to the topic). As with the introduction of other new technological phenomena and activities, research papers examining excessive, problematic, and/or addictive use of such new technological phenomena typically tend to follow. My research colleague (Daria Kuss, Nottingham Trent University, UK) and I wrote a comprehensive literature review on ‘social networking addiction’ and we have also published a number of articles examining particular sub-groups use of social networking sites (such as teenagers).

The development of the BFAS is most likely a proactive response to the fact that researchers studying problematic Facebook use currently have no psychometrically validated tool. On this level, the new BFAS is clearly of use to those in the field. However, there are a number of key issues that must be addressed for the ‘Facebook addiction’ field to move forward. These are the things that I have commented on in my new paper responding to the publication of the BFAS.

Firstly, I argued that from the spate of academic papers that have appeared over the last five years that Facebook has become almost synonymous with social networking. However, I made the point that researchers need to remember that Facebook is just one of many websites where social networking can take place. Therefore, the BFAS has been developed relating to addiction to one particular commercial company’s service (i.e., Facebook) rather than the whole activity itself (i.e., social networking).

Secondly, I argued that the real issue concerns what people on social networks are actually addicted to and what a Facebook Addiction Scale actually measures. These arguments are almost identical to those I have made in relation to Internet addiction and mobile phone addiction. I am the first to admit that Facebook is the biggest site for social networking activity in the world but there are other sizeable ones but which cater for a different demographic (e.g., Bebo, is a social networking site primarily used by young teenagers). Therefore, the new scale may only be relevant and/or applicable to people that are socially networking of the Facebook website.

Thirdly, I argued that although Facebook was originally set up to facilitate social contact between individuals, it is now a site on which people can do so much more than just communicate with other people. For instance, Facebook users can play games like Farmville, can gamble on games like poker, can watch videos and films, and can engage in activities such as swapping photos or constantly updating their profile and/or messaging friends on every minutiae of their life. In short—and just like the term ‘Internet addiction’ —‘Facebook addiction’ as a term may already be obsolete because there are many activities that a person can engage in on the medium. Therefore, ‘Facebook addiction’ is not synonymous with ‘social networking addiction’—they are two fundamentally different things as Facebook has become a specific website where many different online activities can take place.

As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, there is a fundamental difference between addictions on the Internet and addictions to the Internet. The same argument now holds true for Facebook as well as activities such as mobile phone use. What this suggests is that the field needs a psychometrically validated scale that specifically assesses ‘social networking addiction’ rather than Facebook use. In the new scale, social networking as an activity is not mentioned, therefore the scale does not differentiate between someone addicted to the game Farmville or someone addicted to constantly messaging their Facebook friends.

References and further reading

Andraessen, C.S., Tosheim, T., Brunberg, G.S., & Pallesen, S. (2011). Development of a Facebook Addiction Scale. Psychological Reports, 110, 501-517.

Choliz, M. (2010). Mobile phone addiction: A point of issue. Addiction, 105, 373-374.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Technological addictions. Clinical Psychology Forum, 76, 14-19.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Internet addiction: Internet fuels other addictions. Student British Medical Journal, 7, 428-429.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Internet abuse and internet addiction in the workplace. Journal of Worplace Learning, 7, 463-472.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gaming in social networking sites: A growing concern? World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(5), 12-13.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Facebook addiction: Concerns, criticisms and recommendations. Psychological Reports, 110, 2, 518-520.

Griffiths, M.D. & Kuss, D. (2011). Adolescent social networking: Should parents and teachers be worried? Education and Health, 29, 23-25.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2010). Adolescent gambling on the Internet: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 59-75.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Addiction to social networks on the internet: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environment and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Excessive online social networking: Can adolescents become addicted to Facebook? Education and Health, 29. 63-66.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2013).  Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, in press.

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: A critical review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 31-51.

Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit in the Psychology Division at Nottingham Trent University (UK).

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