The numbers alone tell a powerful story of self-obsessions. More than 80m photographs uploaded to Instagram every day, more than 3.5bn ‘likes’ every day, and twenty percent of the world’s population – publishing details of their lives on Facebook.
So, is social media turning humans into a pack of publicity-hungry narcissists? Or were we already inherently self-absorbed?
A direct link has been found between the number of Facebook friends a person has and the prevalence of socially disruptive traits commonly associated with narcissism.
But is the link between narcissism and social media use so clear-cut. Because for social media to have become so popular there has to have been pre-existing narcissism.
I believe that everyone has narcissistic tendencies and that we’re simply more aware of these traits because of the prevalence of social media.
In terms of personality disorders, I wouldn’t imagine social media is the cause but an expression. If you’re a narcissist, you’re looking for a positive reflection of yourself, the world is your mirror and you’re constantly looking for affirmation. For this reason, you’re probably curating your own life very heavily on social media.
I sometimes spend hours thinking about what to post, but consider this for a moment. You’ve amassed more than 160,000 followers from around the world on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter over the past 3 years. You check your social media accounts ten times an hour. Does that describe a narcissist or just someone using available technology to further their life goals and keep up with expectations?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, characteristics of NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) include a deep need for admiration, an inflated sense of one’s own importance, and a lack of empathy for others. Other diagnostic criteria of narcissistic personality disorder include dreaming of unlimited success; craving attention from other people, but showing few warm feelings in return; and choosing friends based on their prestige and status rather than personal qualities. As a voyeur of social media, it’s easy to draw parallels between the way people behave on social media and narcissistic traits.
People in their late teens are particularly vulnerable to the potentially negative effects of social media. Going through a necessary narcissistic stage as they seek to find their place in society and move away from their caregivers. Their experiences of this developmental phase can be unhealthily magnified by social media.
This tribe is heavily influenced by their peers. What is crucially important is how other people see you and a huge focus of your life is geared to creating a positive impression of yourself. Like taking huge care to get the perfect selfie as this stuff stays online forever. That’s a pretty unique pressure and it has to create a painfully pressured state of mind. This has the potential to amplify pre-existing narcissism. And to some extent we all have narcissistic traits.
There is a body of research that suggests social media is good for our self-esteem. that it allows people to test different identities and find a comfortable place in society, but social media can add a layer of pressure to an already complicated time and can encourage people to overshare.
If you have a boring profile, you will get no likes. But if you post something revealing about yourself, or something provocative, then you get more likes. People with 5,000 followers are constantly thinking about what they’re going to post next to get a reaction.
It may be difficult to say concretely that narcissism among people is directly linked to social media. But it does seem that social media encourages and panders to pre-existing narcissism.
It’s not our outward behaviour that we need to concentrate on, we need to look inward. People are using external validation on social media for a reason. We need to examine what is missing at the heart of people.