No its not April 1 and this article appears to be genuine, detailing how social media addiction is a growing problem and including the frankly incredible news that it can be treated on the NHS.
Do you need a digital detox?
SIX Ways to tell if you’re hooked on social media …
1) Looking at Facebook or Twitter more than 10 times a day or for more than half an hour (unless it’s your job).
2) Checking social media on a smartphone when you’re driving.
3) “Cyber-stalking” friends to see you haven’t been left out.
4) Feeling down if no one comments, “likes” or retweets what you post.
5) Getting upset, angry or bewildered if Twitter or Facebook isn’t working.
6) Ending a foreign trip with a sizeable bill for data roaming. When you’re away, why not take a holiday from social media?
… and what to do if you are
NHS treatment for technology addiction can be found for extreme cases at hospitals such as the Tavistock and Portman with referral from a GP.
Dr Graham has a clinic at the private Capio Nightingale Hospital, where addicts or those with social media compulsion can seek an initial consultation and follow-up treatment costing from £500. It offers residential treatment in some extreme cases.
It’s 7:30am, my iPhone alarm wakes me and as I drag my finger along the slider to silence the annoying tone, I notice a bunch of “notifications” from Facebook and Twitter, messages from WhatsApp and a new follower on Instagram.
I need to get in the shower but, without thinking about it, I can see that Mark and four other people have liked my photograph, Natasha has commented on it. I’m alerted that my friend Matt was “checked” into a bar near my house the night before and a series of people have responded to a tweet of mine, others have retweeted it and my mother has sent messages to our family’s WhatsApp group.
Drawn in, I slide my finger along a Facebook notification and get sucked into the newsfeed. There I see friends congratulating Vivienne and Andrew on becoming engaged and add a comment too. Someone I don’t even remember has split with his boyfriend and I like a photograph that Kate has posted of her cat. Then Twitter tells me that my boyfriend @Zefference has replied to a mildly amusing tweet of mine about him, drawing me into my Twitter feed for a while.
I put the phone down, it’s now nearly 8am. Social media has drained me of another half an hour. If you’re one of the 33 million Brits on Facebook or the 11 million on Twitter, this experience might not be that dissimilar to yours.
I have long described myself as “addicted” to social media, in a jokey sense. I thought it was a good thing. After all, for six years I was the technology correspondent at Channel 4 News and my first reports introduced many viewers to social networking. Thanks to that exposure, I’ve amassed 59,921 subscribers on Facebook, 15,052 followers on Twitter, 8,361 on Google+, 644 followers on Instagram and I have 854 “friends” on Facebook.
However, since I left the world of TV news, I have started to wonder if my own use was becoming a little unhealthy and if the joke of “addiction” was actually true. There’s a reason to be worried: a study last year by the University of Chicago suggested that Facebook can be more addictive than alcohol or cigarettes and harder to give up, too.
Recent research by the University of North Carolina found that we get a jolt of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with addiction, whenever someone likes a post or retweets us.
People who can’t tear themselves away are now starting to seek help: Bolton Wanderers revealed yesterday that their England Under-21 striker Marvin Sordell, 21, will receive counselling for an alleged “obsession” with Twitter and Facebook.
And so, for the Evening Standard, I went to the Tavistock and Portman, an NHS mental health hospital in Belsize Park, to find out if I really am an addict or just a genuine “social media guru”.
The hospital has built up a reputation for treating tech addicts thanks to a unit led by consultant psychiatrist Dr Richard Graham, who treats more than 100 sufferers a year.
In the hospital waiting room I found myself sat next to a slightly agitated teenager. Although of course I didn’t speak to him or even acknowledge his existence, just like so many of us do when we have a moment of downtime, I grabbed my iPhone and went straight onto Facebook and Twitter. “Oh dear,” I thought, “perhaps I really am addicted.”
As Dr Graham led me to his consulting room, we talked about a sort of online diary I had sent him. In it I listed how long each day I thought I used social media. It was the first time I’d ever sat down and quantified it — between three and four hours a day.
“What do you actually feel you post?” he asked.
“If you were to ask my real-world friends, they’d say ‘way too much!’” I replied.
As we talked, I began to realise that, with Facebook in particular, I have posted to compensate for failings or mistakes in my real life, such as posting photos after a break-up to show the world (and my ex) that everything was okay, or just plain showing off when I check in to somewhere cool.
Dr Graham said: “Images have a greater currency than text — feeling your image is liked becomes compulsive. For you, wanting validation and to remain involved seems to be the greatest driver in your social media use.”
What about my constant checking of the newsfeed? Dr Graham termed this “surveillance” — in part, we do it to check we haven’t been left out of something.
“When it comes to the constant checking, one could consider that social media is on your brain for 18 hours a day,” Dr Graham told me. “It’s a very intense mental activity, something that is akin to a depressed mood.”
I’ve spoken to other users who check even more than me. Sara, a heavy user, told me, “I can’t stop logging into Facebook on my iPhone whenever I have a spare minute. I need to know what my friends are doing. Sometimes that’s even when I’m sitting in traffic.”
A study last year by the Institute of Advanced Motorists found that eight per cent of drivers are using social media behind the wheel, which is not just illegal but also highly dangerous.
Dr Graham then asked: “How would you feel if you couldn’t access social media — say the servers crashed?” I surprised myself by saying “relief”. Some of my happiest recent memories have been when I haven’t been able to access the services — on an island with no reception, when my phone broke in Berlin or in a theatre.
Not everyone is so liberated. Heavy user Alessandro told me that when he’s abroad “I have withdrawal symptoms from not being online. I’m anxious about what’s going on and I worry all the time that I’m being left out of something.” He added: “I’m happier when I’m online.”
Scott, another heavy user who also suffers from anxiety problems told me: “I’ve posted 145,066 tweets,” — not hard when he says he’s actively on social media for eight hours a day. “Giving up wouldn’t be easy for me,” he explains. “It’s a lifeline.”
As my session drew to a close, I asked Dr Graham if he thought I was addicted. “I think you’re edging towards a compulsion or an obsession right now, but not an addiction yet.”
So what should I do to ensure it didn’t become one? “A digital detox — at some point very soon allow yourself a minimum of a 72-hour period offline. I’m not sure how long you would manage, though, as you are so subsumed. A break like that could reduce some of the distress and it would allow some degree of recovery.”
It’s something I’m planning to do soon but I have already stopped my iPhone notifying me of the latest interactions with the virtual Ben who lives on Facebook and Twitter.
The problem with social networks is that, unlike smoking, it’s not practical to actually give them up. When even my Grandma is a regular user, how on earth could I, as a journalist, not want to be part of it? Therefore the challenge for me and many others is how to wean ourselves off the habit-forming parts and to let social media be part of our lives — not dictate them.