Facebook – the deceptive reality

Mohamedarif Suleman – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Social media – Facebook in particular is here to stay and much as some of us may want to believe that this is something that can be brushed aside, the truth is that it has a very powerful presence amidst society.  So perhaps if we were to trace the origin of social media tools, it may have, after all, been created in good spirit.  After all, people living in cold climate, fast paced economies, seldom have time to connect with friends and family, spending most of their time commuting or staying indoors (at work or at home).  It cannot be ignored that it is indeed a very useful thing to have although we regularly hear from the pulpits about how harmful it is to society in general, and youths in particular.

Sam Woolfe, a popular blogger asserts as follows: “Facebook is great for communication, networking and planning events. It is a social media platform that was designed to connect people and clearly it achieves this in a number of ways. However, Facebook’s utility and popularity often masks its more psychologically damaging aspects, of which there seems to be three: addiction, social isolation and depression.” He then cites a study on Facebook conducted by Diana Tamir from Harvard University in which it was found through fMRI scans that disclosing information about oneself is intrinsically rewarding. Using social media sites can be addictive because they allow us to do exactly this. This study provides evidence for the theory that individuals place a high subjective value on opportunities to communicate their thoughts and feelings to others and that doing so acts on the reward systems in our brain. The fMRI scans revealed that this kind of self-disclosure does in fact release dopamine (the ‘pleasure chemical’) in our brain. I wouldn’t be surprised if future studies found that there is a release of dopamine when one receives a notification on Facebook. We might automatically register the notification as a response to our thoughts and feelings and dopamine could be released as a result.

Now this result, when viewed from the perspective of our community perhaps gives us a clue of why our brothers and sisters all over the world, including those who are protecting their women from the gaze of street passing men, are so wholeheartedly engaged or encouraging to engage in posting from bizarre things like food pictures (living in Dar es Salaam and the mushrooming of profoundly delicious food restaurants, this is common practice and is done quite publicly without an iota of embarrassment) to posting model-like pictures in which couples not only “I love you in public sphere” but also pose in intimate (for now there are some boundaries at least) model-like scenes enough to make visitors to this post want to look at them over and over again.  You buy a new phone, you announce to the world, you are travelling, you turn on the location feature, all your expressions of love and joy are now only in public.  Dopamine overload you may think.

Woolfe further outlines another negative effect of Facebook, “which in a way stems from the problem of habitual use and addiction, is social isolation. The irony of Facebook is that it is a force for greater isolation and loneliness, as well as greater connectivity. Sure, Facebook can allow us to communicate with old friends, classmates and people from all over the world, but the nature of interaction on Facebook is conducive to more social isolation. Instead of face-to-face interaction with people we know well, we are content with cyber-interaction with people we don’t know that well.  And even if we are interacting with close friends and family on Facebook, this is still no substitute for real life social interactions; the kind which our mind is geared towards. The problem with habitual or addictive Facebook use is that many people do come to accept this as a substitute. The more time we spend on the artificial social world of Facebook, the more isolated we will become. We are a social species and we depend on hearing another’s voice and seeing each other’s facial expressions and body language for proper human interaction. Facebook and other social media platforms just don’t meet these requirements.”

Marissa Maldonaldo, who has spent years working at dual diagnosis treatment centers in her “The Anxiety of Facebook” chooses to focus onto the mental effects of using Facebook.  She quotes some recent research that shows how using social networking sites, namely Facebook, can increase people’s stress levels, produce anxiety and negatively affect a person’s sense of self. Using these sites might even cause a person to develop a mental health disorder or exacerbate an existing one. Social media even has the power to quickly spread moods around the world.

“Social media sites provide places where people can create the face they want the world to see. Creating a profile allows a person to decide exactly what image to present to others. For some people, this can lead to a near-obsession. This could reflect a person’s self-esteem, according to one study.  This study looked into the association between a person’s self-esteem and how much time he or she spent on maintaining his or her profile, specifically what actions they performed to create their online persona. Those with lower self-esteem cared more about what others had posted about them on Facebook and were more likely to remove certain posts to ensure their profile remained a reflection of the image they wanted to portray. They might even scour Facebook and other networking sites to ensure that there are no negative remarks or unflattering photos. Conversely, those with high self-esteem spend time creating their own profile, adding pictures and information about themselves to show the world their ultimate persona.”

Another study showed that Facebook increases people’s anxiety levels by making them feel inadequate and generating excess worry and stress. Social media provides constant updates. This motivates many people to continually check their status and newsfeed on mobile devices. Some people feel a constant impulse to check for updates, only feeling relief when they turn off the mobile device. In this study, over half of the respondents felt uneasy when they were unable to access their social media and email accounts.  Additionally, two-thirds had difficulty sleeping due to anxiety and other negative emotions after they had used the sites. The constant updates also led many respondents to frequently compare themselves to others, leading to feelings of inadequacy. This anxiety and worry creates chronic stress that could lead to health problems, including mental health issues.

What is alarming that even though we live in a world with increased organised crime, when it comes to Facebook, we are not at all concerned about security and go on revealing details about how we feel about our spouse, send messages to our children (who live in the same house as us) and display new acquisitions – phones, cars, homes to the world at large.  The compulsion is so great that even the return compliments of “thank you and you are the best dad/mum, etc” are all there for everyone to see.

There are hundreds of other studies currently being conducted by Universities across the world on the effects that Facebook has on us, none of them is telling is that it makes us happy but that we promote perceived self happiness by the release of this substance in our bodies.

What should we as Muslims be doing when we use this powerful social tool.  It is fallacious to say don’t use it because it now rules our lives.  Many times we even use it in a good way, but goinf overboard and making it a part of our lives that we simply can’t do without, borders on paranoia.  Indeed, some studies are showing that the long term effect of people losing their social mental balance is more likely than we think.  After all, how many times do you receive messages from someone who says he is going for Ziyaarat or Hajj and seeks your pardon, but if and when you cross paths, he fails to recognise you.  This attests to how robotic we have become.  We are now even talking to people we don’t know.  We are creating a new set of rituals – I have been blessed with this and that is a profoundly appreciated message if it goes to people you know but gravely misdirected if you send it to those with whom you do not have real social contact.  When it comes to our children – we need to think hard.  Being more impressionable – they have started to use it for everything – fighting over Liverpool’s defeats, criticising others at free will, declaring open relationships with guys and gals without fear or social repercussions, and so on.

A show off society is what it will ultimately lead to, a no privacy society.  Readers views are encouraged.

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