Introduction to the Controversy and Positions
As social media websites have become increasingly popular, some psychologists have asked whether excessive use of social media is a form of narcissism. Researcher Soraya Mehdizadeh answers this question in the affirmative, taking the position that social media offers new opportunities for self-presentation through which narcissistic tendencies may be manifested (Mehdizadeh, 2010). She supports her position with the results of a study of Facebook users, which revealed that individuals who scored higher on measures of narcissism and lower on measures of self-esteem used Facebook significantly more than individuals with lower scores for narcissim and higher scores for self-esteem (Mehdizadeh, 2010). In contrast, media researcher Alex Lambert answers the same question in the negative. He claims that self-presentation is not merely about self-presentation (Lambert, 2013). He refutes the narcissism hypothesis by pointing out how using Facebook can be used for social interaction and suggests that it is more commonly used to seek intimacy, rather than to fulfill narcissistic desires (Lambert, 2013).
My position is that excessive use of social media is a form of narcissism. Although I acknowledge the validity of Lambert’s claim that Facebook can be used to facilitate intimate social interactions, I believe it is important to consider some of the social media websites that rose to popularity in the years after Lambert’s article was published. For instance, the social media website Twitter is much more about expressing ideas and opinions to the general public than connecting with friends and family. Similarly, posting pictures on Instagram can hardly be described as intimate, since pictures are available for viewing by all followers. Even though conversations are sometimes generated in the “comments” section, the platform is not generally conducive to intimate conversations between friends and family members, because comments are visible to everyone. Thus, the growing popularity of these new social media websites, alongside Facebook, suggests that social media is more often used for personal expression than social connection, so excessive use can be described as a form of narcissism.
Applications of the Controversy
A cultural group that may view this controversy from a different perspective consists of young people living in the Middle East. During the Arab Spring, this cultural group used social media to organize political efforts. The specific goals of these social media users varied by country, but many would likely argue that they were not using social media for narcissistic purposes or to foster positive social relationships. Rather, they would view social media as a tool that could be used to accomplish political goals in situations where government repression stifled opposition and made political organization difficult.
The reasoning behind Mehdizadeh’s position was that her study showed a statistically significant correlation between narcissism and social media use. However, it is important to note that the population was limited to a very specific set of Facebook users – college students in Canada (Mehdizadeh, 2010) – so they may not be broadly generalizable. Lambert’s reasoning is based on a review of the literature, which highlights many relevant uses of social media, not just for self-expression (Lambert, 2013).
This topic impacts our society because excessive social media use can interfere with people’s regular lives, including work, school, and relationships. Even if social media is not being used for narcissistic purposes, some people may lose touch with reality because they spend all their time on social media. Also, political and social topics are commonly discussed on social media, so excessive social media use has the potential to alter the political landscape of today’s society. Citizens can resolve this issue by limiting the amount of time they spend on social media.
Mehdizadeh (2010) justifies her position based on the results of a rigorous scientific study in which 100 Facebook users at York University self-reported information about their social media use, self-esteem, and narcissistic tendencies. The study used correlation analysis to highlight statistically significant connections between these factors (Mehdizadeh, 2010). Lambert (2013) also discusses scientific studies from the psychology literature when making his argument.
One of the assumptions inherent in the affirmative position is that real-world social engagement is more meaningful than online engagement. One of the assumptions of the negative position is that people have lots of choices when it comes to social media use.
In conclusion, researchers disagree about whether or not excessive social media use is a form of narcissism. Reasonable arguments can be made on both sides, but I am inclined to support the affirmative position. When examining this issue, it is important to consider the question from a variety of different perspectives.
- Lambert, A. (2013). Discovering intimacy on Facebook. In Intimacy and Friendship on Facebook. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Mehdizadeh, S. (2010). Self-presentation 2.0: Narcissism and self-esteem on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 1394), 357-64.