- Nairobi-based psychologist Joan Nyambura told Digital Business that on top of losing jobs, the dire effect of social media addiction has led to a decline in student performance in Kenyan universities while locking them out of possible employment.
- She adds that there exists a strong link between heavy social media use and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm and even suicidal thoughts.
When George lost his job last June, it was not because his employer had run out of resources to manage his company due to Covid-19.
The decision to retrench him was informed by his productivity which had hit its lowest point, despite several attempts by his line manager to rescue him.
George, who celebrated his 26th birthday last month, had been addicted to social media to the extent of camping on social sites such as Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook for six out of the eight working hours indicated in his employment letter.
The accountant would often forget his duties for the day to attend to his 60,000 Instagram followers, 42,000 Twitter followers, 5,000 Facebook friends and his 3,000 WhatsApp contacts.
"I attached too much value to the audience that followed me. I would always be late in delivering my duties but I often felt I was just okay till the third warning, and then the sacking," he says.
According to Jena Hilliard, an expert at Addiction Centre in the United States, although the majority of peoples' use of social media is non-problematic, there is a percentage of users that become addicted to social networking sites and engage in excessive and compulsive use.
"Social media addiction is a behavioural addiction characterised as being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas," she says.
The effect of addictive social media use is much like that of any other substance abuse disorder, including mood modification, salience, tolerance, experiencing unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms when social media use is restricted or stopped and relapse.
Ms Hillard says social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube and Instagram produce the same neural circuitry that is caused by gambling and recreational drugs.
"Studies have shown that the constant stream of retweets, likes, and shares from these sites have affected the brain's reward area to trigger the same kind of chemical reaction as other drugs, such as cocaine. In fact, social media interaction is compared to a syringe of dopamine being injected straight into the system," she warns.
Nairobi-based psychologist Joan Nyambura told Digital Business that on top of losing jobs, the dire effect of social media addiction has led to a decline in student performance in Kenyan universities while locking them out of possible employment.
"Even relationships and marriages have suffered due to this type of addiction. There is so much attention to the sites that some people totally forget about their core responsibilities," she says.
She adds that there exists a strong link between heavy social media use and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm and even suicidal thoughts.
"There is a direct correlation between cognitive behavioural habits and social cognitive effects, resulting in negative consequences related to family, personal and professional life due to excessive use of mobile social networking sites," she notes.
A research by Harvard University has revealed that self-disclosure on social networking sites lights up the same part of the brain that also ignites when taking an addictive substance. The reward area in the brain and its chemical messenger pathways affect decisions and sensations.
"When someone experiences something rewarding, or uses an addictive substance, neurons in the principal dopamine-producing areas in the brain are activated, causing dopamine levels to rise," says the study.
Ms Hilliard says this is observable in social media usage; when an individual gets a notification, such as a like or mention, the brain receives a rush of dopamine and sends it along reward pathways, causing him or her to feel pleasure.
"In real life, it's estimated that people talk about themselves around 30 to 40 percent of the time; however, social media is all about showing off one's life and accomplishments, so people talk about themselves a staggering 80 percent of the time," she says.
This is seen when a person posts a picture and gets positive social feedback; it stimulates the brain to release dopamine, which again rewards that behaviour and perpetuates the social media habit.
A report released by Social Media Lab Africa on Kenya's social media habits for 2020 shows that 91 percent of WhatsApp users access the platform daily.
"Seventy-seven per cent of Facebooker visit the site daily. 67 percent of YouTubers users also visit the site daily, another 28 percent use it a few days a week, while six percent say they use the video-sharing platform less often," the report reveals.
The survey also shows that 28 percent of social media users in Kenya spend more than two hours online daily. However, a 54 percent of Kenyans spend less than one hour on social media daily.
"Thirty percent of WhatsApp users, 21 percent of YouTube users and 20 percent of Vimeo users spend more than three hours online daily, while 60 percent of WhatsApp users, 46 percent of Facebook users and 29 percent of YouTubers spend more than two hours online every day," the survey indicates, highlighting the probable high levels of social media addiction in Kenya.
But how can you know that you are addicted? Ms Nyambura says if you spend a lot of time thinking about social media or planning to use social media, then you are in a dangerous trap.
"If you feel the urge to use social media more and more or you use social media to forget about personal problems, then you are addicted," she says.
She adds that if you often try to reduce use of social media without success, if you become restless or troubled if unable to use social media or if it prevents you from performing your duties, then you need psychiatric assistance.
Luckily, Ms Hilliard says, the condition is treatable and many have successfully recovered. "One of the best ways to break an addiction to social media is to set boundaries and reduce screen-time. However, if the addiction is too severe you may require professional help or get rehabilitated," she advises.
Turning off social media push notifications is one potential way of kicking out severe addiction, coupled with keeping away your devices while working.
"You need to delete social media accounts that are of less value to you. Sometimes you need a 30-day 'digital detox' to break out from informational overload. Be mindful of time sopent on social media. Use an actual timer to indicate when your browsing time is up," Ms Nyambura guides.