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Facebook Addiction Disorder linked to stress and depression

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Researchers have demonstrated a close positive association between daily stress, depression symptoms and Facebook Addiction Disorder (FAD).

The study investigated the link between experience of daily stress, depression symptoms and Facebook Addiction Disorder (FAD). According to the study, high daily stress (e.g. family, study and work) can pose a high psychological burden on individuals, leading to many to turn to Facebook use as a coping strategy, with depression symptoms serving as a moderator of this association.

Facebook is currently the most popular social media platform, with over 2.4 billion members. Previous studies described how intensive active Facebook use (e.g. writing status updates and uploading photos) can contribute to distraction from everyday problems and to mood improvement for some users.

However, such immersion can also foster the risk of developing a strong obsessive need to stay permanently online, which can cause interpersonal conflicts with the offline world. It has also been positively linked to anxiety symptoms and insomnia.

This need has been informally called Facebook Addiction Disorder (FAD) and is defined by six typical characteristics: salience (i.e. permanent thinking about Facebook); tolerance (i.e. heightened amounts of Facebook use are required to attain positive effect); mood modification (i.e. mood improvement by Facebook use); relapse (i.e. reverting to extensive Facebook use after unsuccessful attempts of its reduction); withdrawal symptoms (i.e. feeling nervous without Facebook use), and conflict (i.e. interpersonal problems caused by intensive Facebook use).

It has previously been described that depressed persons, frequently feeling overwhelmed by the requirements of everyday life, often turn to excessive Facebook use to at least temporarily escape from their offline problems. The rewards of positive social feedback (e.g. 'Likes' and positive comments to posts) that they may be missing offline encourage deeper engagement with Facebook. This may enhance their risk of developing FAD.

The researchers studied a population of 531 students in Germany and an older sample of 909 mostly employed individuals in the US to broaden the relevance of their findings. They propose that while people with higher levels of depression symptoms who tend to feel more overwhelmed by everyday life may have some improvement in mood by using Facebook use in the short term, in the long term it increases the risk of developing FAD, negatively impacting well-being.

In their article, titled 'Relationship Between Daily Stress, Depression Symptoms, and Facebook Addiction Disorder in Germany and in the United States' (published in the September 2019 issue of journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking), the authors identified a close positive association between daily stress, depression symptoms and FAD.

The findings also underscored the importance of depression symptoms as moderator between daily stress and FAD. Future research is advised to investigate further moderators of this relationship to understand the mechanisms that may contribute to the development of addictive Facebook use.

The conclusion of the study is that depressed individuals who often tend to intensively use Facebook to escape from daily stress and to find relief and social support are at enhanced risk of developing FAD, which reinforces their negative symptoms. Interventions for depressed individuals should include alternative strategies to cope with daily stressors.

Facebook's reputation has suffered in recent years, especially following the Cambridge Analytica data scandal and the manipulation of misinformation by foreign bad actors to skew voting in the 2016 US election, the after-effects of which continue to dog the company.

In a survey of 2,000 people conducted by open-source communications software firm Open-Xchange, 33 per cent said they would like to stop using Facebook-owned services. Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) said they didn't believe big messaging platforms, including Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp - formerly independent, now Facebook-owned - respect the privacy rights of users. 73 per cent also said their trust in such platforms had been eroded in the past two years. The survey also revealed that Chinese smartphone maker Huawei is now more trusted by the UK public than Facebook, despite the telecoms giant's ongoing geopolitical disputes and unproven concerns about the company's ties to the Chinese government.

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