WTF is the SNAD, you ask? Well, according to Nicole Ferraro over at the Internet Evolution blog, Social Networking Anxiety Disorder is similar to the better-known Social Anxiety Disorder, but rather than the anxiety being brought on via social encounters, it is brought on by the inherent “pressures” associated with social networking sites like Facebook.
Don’t laugh too hard though. In the spring, I gave a guest lecture on social media to an undergrad computer science class at Georgetown. During a vigorous discussion with students about Facebook, several students said that they never refused friend requests because they didn’t “want to be mean” to those making the requests, even if the requests were coming from people they didn’t know. I also came across this trend in my thesis research: in the survey I conducted on Georgetown undergraduates, I asked respondents questions related to how they initially met online-only friends, and a noteworthy number (I believe several dozen) replied that the other person had “randomly” friended them.
Another potential cause for anxiety comes from something as simple as the “Relationship Status” field in a person’s profile, and the News Feed’s annoying little habit of telling everyone in the whole world when that status changes (with a very sad broken heart icon for breakups…damn, Facebook is cruel). I know from my own friends and interactions with Facebook users that men are significantly less likely to change their status once they begin dating a new person, and if they do change it, it’s more likely to be to remove the status completely rather than add “In a Relationship.” Women, however, want to broadcast to the world that they are no longer that poor single girl, and the lack of reciprocation by their new man can be the source of many arguments. Another interesting finding from my thesis research showed that of those respondents who said their offline relationships had suffered negative consequences because of the content in their Facebook profile, nearly half (n=39) said that a boyfriend or girlfriend had ended a relationship. Admittedly, teenage relationships are much more fickle and fleeting than more adult relationships, but such concerns could certainly be anxiety-inducing in an 18-year-old.
Now, as a social media researcher, I find this to be a silly — and potentially dangerous — practice, most obviously because of the risks these users are opening themselves up to in terms of their privacy. After all, some Facebook users are dumb enough to include their addresses and phone numbers in their profiles for everyone to see. As someone who is 10 years older than most of these respondents, however, I can understand the desire to be part of the social media phenomenon and the belief that quantity exceeds quality (in terms of the number of friends). Recent Pew Internet research has also found that teens do take online privacy seriously, and are more educated about privacy and security on SNSs than their adult counterparts.
Personally, I see SNAD to be only slightly more ridiculous than the recently revitalized hype over Internet addiction. Sure, some people probably do get too involved in their social networking accounts and spend an unhealthy amount of time on these sites, just as there will always be gamers who spend too much time playing online games or kids who drink too much milk or jump off one too many ledges with their skateboards. These people will all experience negative consequences, whether it is the development of an aversion to sunlight, the loss of friends, a bad bout of nausea (I can tell you from personal experience that drinking too much milk, i.e., 3/4 of a gallon in five minutes, will make you mighty nauseous), or a broken arm. That’s why everything should be done in moderation! Don’t let Facebook take over your life, because that is a pretty boring life. The least you could do is move from the basement to the living room and play some Super Smash Bros. Brawl with some friends.