PsychBook Research

Collecting and analysing psychological research on the most popular social networking site in the world today.

Nessa Childers and Facebook: the heart of the matter

The irony of MEP Nessa Childers recent statement on Facebook and regulation is that, while stating that ‘we can present on Facebook an unreal and flawless version of ourselves’, (which studies show does not happen in practice), and attempting to put herself across as an expert on the topic, she has exposed herself as acutely misinformed.

While I accept that guidlelines for the use of social networking would be a good idea, if drawn up by suitably informed authorities, dark mutterings about ‘problematic behaviour’ and ‘disturbing phenomena’ only serve to reduce the debate to scare-mongering.

It is disappointing that a psychotherapist should engage in headline-chasing of this nature, especially when only a modicum of prior research would reveal that ‘addiction’ to Facebook, or indeed any other medium, is a symptom, not a cause, of psychological problems.


Categories: Opinion

Thanks for your blog post but I did not call for a ban or restriction. You may not realise but internet addiction is a real issue and has been recognised by the EU as such.

Yes I am not an internet expert but a mental health expert and have seen the effects of intenet addiction on real families.

Just as have guidelines to protect addicts, so should social networking sites. If you listened to my interview with Ray Darcy earlier this week, you would hear the huge amt of people who are spending 4/5 hours a day on Facebook. This is a mental health issue.

I am a huge fan of such sites for moderate usage and would never advocate censorship etc but addiction of all forms is something I will highlight during my term in the European Parliament.

Thank you,
3 June 10 at 10:03
I appreciate your reply to my post, and I stress that I acknowledge that you, like I, have the best interests of the public at heart. Also, I must admit that I did not hear you on the Ray D’Arcy show, and my blog post was based entirely on your press release.

However, I am mystified as to why you mention a ban or a restriction, because if you re-read my post, you will see that I haven’t mentioned such a thing, nor have I accused you of proposing that either.

In fact, I have said that I, like you, do think that guidelines for the use of social networking sites would be a good idea. I would be more than happy to be involved in the drafting of such guidelines, though I am sceptical as to how effective in changing users behaviour they would be. Facebook users, as a whole, largely ignored the privacy issues that Facebook recently became embroiled in, so I doubt they would listen to EU guidelines.

I am well aware of the phenomenon of ‘Internet Addiction’, and while the EU may have recognised, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association has not. Most of the research suggests that while there is a genuine problem, it appears to affect far fewer unique cases than is often reported, simply because those who present with Internet Addiction, or Compulsive Internet Use, or Problematic Internet Use, usually have a more profound comorbidity – which I am sure you are aware of yourself.

Internet addiction is qualitatively different to other addictions for the simple reason that in the modern era, many people have to use the internet for long periods of their day, and this factor can inflate reported figures. Moreover, in relation to Facebook, multi-tabbed internet browsers mean that a user can be logged on to the site all day, without actually viewing the page except intermittently. Phenomena like this mean than measuring the actual reach of Internet addiction, is increasingly problematic.

But getting back to your comment, even if people who ring in to the Ray D’Arcy show are spending 4 to 5 hours a day on Facebook, this is far from scientific fact and I think it is excessive in the extreme to describe it as a mental health issue without knowing more facts about individual cases.

Furthermore, the average Irish person watches 3.5 hours of television per day, yet there is no controversy about that. The reason why there is no discussion about television addiction any more (though there was in the 1950’s) is because we, as a society, have gotten used to the technology.

Again, I repeat that it is the duty of mental health professionals to bring informed, evidence-based and sober commentary to this issue, as I have tried to do. I suggest that you take a look at my PsychBook TV – Episode 2, where I have explained the mechanisms which make Facebook habit-forming, and suggested strategies for how users can better manage their use of the site.

With respect,

3 June 10 at 11:55