NZ Herald Column Kyle MacDonald

Kyle MacDonald: The truth about social media addiction

This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald.  Click here for the original article…
“My partner spends all their spare time on their phone, on Facebook. Is there such a thing as social media addiction?”

Likes, shares, favourites, new followers… it all just feels so GOOD doesn’t it? We’re social creatures, and the short burst of feel good vibes from a digital human “stroke” is highly reinforcing, and indeed, for some, addictive.

Around 80 per cent of New Zealanders with internet access have a Facebook account, with slightly more women than men using the platform. On average people check their Facebook account 14 times a day.

These are big numbers. But does this mean social media is addictive? And if it is what does a “Facebook addiction” look like?

The big alarm bell is when you find it hard to go without, and repeatedly experience unsuccessful attempts to do so. It’s also true that the people creating these platforms design them to be more “engaging”.

Human contact and attention is very rewarding. That’s what makes social media so different to others apps or games: the “social” element.


• Questions will remain anonymous
Another reason Facebook in particular is so engaging is “the network effect”. Essentially, the more people that use a network, the more appealing it becomes and the more people fall prey to “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out).

For some this engagement can tip into addiction. Like any addiction, the important test is to find out if your use has consequences. For many that means paying less attention to the “real” people around you, interrupting your workday and feeling less productive and more anxious or restless if you can’t access your device.

There’s also some interesting research that suggests increased use of Facebook in particular is correlated with depression. It’s not clear if depression causes increased use, or if high users of social media are more prone to low mood. Either way heavy Facebook use can make you feel bad.

So what can you do if you think your social media use is a problem?

  • Start by trying to consciously track or notice how often you feel compelled to check Facebook. You might be surprised by the frequency
  • Try setting clear limits with yourself, only check your notifications at set times during the day: before work, lunch time and in the evening
  • Create “phone free zones”. For example, at the family dinner table, when you’re out with friends, when you’re with your partner, or in bed
  • Turn the notifications on your phone and computer off, so you’re not interrupted by Facebook or Twitter during the day
  • Delete the apps from your phone, and only check Facebook on your computer or one device
  • If you find any or all of the above hard, consider a “digital detox” where you take a few days to a week’s break from ALL social media.
  • You can suspend (even temporarily) your account. Life does carry on without social media…

Where to get help:

• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906 (Palmerston North and Levin)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.


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