More People Confused About Social Media “Addiction”

We’ve already written about the absurdly false notion of social media addiction. The posts written here have even been echoed by university publications. It’s a label almost always thrown about by those who have no business speaking about addiction, while credible authorities on psychology don’t actually endorse this.

Of course, reality doesn’t make for as controversial (read: inaccurate) headlines. Those false headlines do more harm than good and ruin any trust or credibility with the media or companies pushing them. They fall apart under scrutiny.

So all we can do is continue to point out the false representation of a concept. OnlineEducation.net is the most recent offender, having put out an infographic unfortunately titled: “is social media ruining students?”

Social media is “ruining students.” Not, perhaps, oh I don’t know… alcohol? Which has by this logic been “ruining” students way before social media (although even here it’s a false notion any one thing is “ruining” students because smart students generally practice moderation).

We could call out many other things wrong with this infographic. Seriously not much in there is defensible from either a data and storytelling angle, but we’ll just leave it at clearly the creators of this infographic didn’t actually use Facebook in college. Many readers here (myself included) did. Go read their “final verdict” at the bottom. Really?

Poking holes in the whole infographic would be fun (and pretty easy) but would take a bit longer to go through it all. I’ll leave that to you. However, what I am going to call out specifically is their shoddy analysis and obvious data spin of the social media addiction concept. Because OnlineEducation.net should know better than to spin this. Here’s the part of the infographic where they make the claim:

social media addiction

They claim “social media is addicting” by referencing the Maryland Study. Except as others have already pointed out: researchers for this study have based their conclusion that students were “addicted” to social media by the very scientific fact that students simply said they were. As Mike goes on to note in the article linked:

Just taking common modern media consumption and communications tools away from users for 24 hours doesn’t seem to prove much of anything — aside from the fact that people have grown used to modern media consumption and consumption tools — which they’d adapt to living without in time. The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize so-called Internet addiction as a disorder (despite efforts to change this to help sell more “cures”), and real addiction generally involves people with real problems who usually aren’t quick to admit they even have an addiction. As we’ve discussed countless times — the real problem is that we’re annoyingly in love with (but not addicted to) calling everything an addiction. At least when we’re not busy getting high off of everything.

Indeed. So what about the “Facebook addiction” is searched 350X more than “cigarette addiction?” The SEO in me loves this. Google’s Keyword tool pegs Facebook Addiction at around 12,100 local searches / mo, and Cigarette Addiction at 1,600:

Multiply 1,600 by 350 …yeah, they should probably check that math. But for this one query, “Facebook addiction” is actually 7.5 times (not quite the claimed 350x) more popular than “cigarette addiction” to compare just those two queries.

However this comparison is nonsense, regardless of actual difference, and just proves that:

  • People know cigarettes are addicting already – not much of a need to search this one (you guys understand what actually drives search demand, right?).
  • Media are hyping up Facebook addiction and popularizing the concept.
  • You can always find at least one comparison point to tell your story – but that by itself is not necessarily defensible.

Want to see what real addiction looks like from a search demand standpoint? Also according to Google’s keyword tool, 550,000 people search “quitting smoking” per month compared with a paltry 2,900 people searching for quitting Facebook. In fact, you have to get way down into queries in keyword suggest to even find one with volume for a Facebook quitting-oriented phrase if you throw them both into keyword suggest:

It is similar if you search Facebook addiction and cigarette addiction and force rank by popularity. They have cherry-picked 2 phrases here to try (but not very well) to backup an already false claim. But if you actually fleshed out two keyword glossaries, one for Facebook and one for cigarette addiction, it wouldn’t even be close. Cigarette addiction dominates, hands down.

So, can we please stop the social media addiction nonsense? If we’re going to do this, why not call out the clearly more damaging TV viewing trends? Or how about video game addiction? Email addiction? Cell phone addiction? But that would be equally silly because where does it stop? By this logic, we are all addicted to pretty much everything. And it shows the term addiction has become misused for attention or to sell something.

There are physically addicting substances out there that real addicts deserve medical attention for (and legitimate mental health issues we need to address in the population). Labeling any technology addiction is not just inaccurate, it is misleading and mistakes a symptom for a root cause. And treating symptons but not actual disorders is not going to help anyone.