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By Marilyn Heywood Paige
Twenty years into using social media, we are seeing the more negative effects of the medium.
Part one of this blog outlined how social media changed our self-perceptions. This second installment examines the links between social media and narcissism, how that changed society, and some lesser-known social media alternatives.
Types of Narcissism
First, it’s important to understand that there are two types of narcissism: grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism. Grandiose narcissists “tend to brag and be elitist. Those with grandiose narcissism are aggressive, dominant, and exaggerate their importance. They are very self-confident and aren’t sensitive.” (WebMD )
“Vulnerable narcissists are much more sensitive. Narcissistic behavior helps to protect them against feelings of inadequacy. Even though they go between feeling inferior and superior to others, they feel offended or anxious when others don’t treat them as if they’re special.” (WebMD )
The Link Between Social Media and Narcissism
Social media is such a self-aggrandizing medium; it’s no wonder the number of narcissists has increased in America. Take an individualistic society and give each person a looking glass that amplifies his or her image and, like magic, narcissism rises. One study found strong associations between aggressive “grandiose narcissism” and social media behaviors, such as time spent on social media, frequency of tweets, and frequency of posting selfies. For the record, Americans aged 16 to 64 spend an average of two hours and fourteen minutes per day on social media.
Dr. Julia Shaw writes, “Grandiose and vulnerable narcissism can look the same on the surface, they come from very different places. It’s the difference between posting a selfie because you feel like you look incredible and everyone needs to see your face (which would be grandiose) and posting a selfie because you are feeling down and are looking for some external validation (which would be vulnerable).”
So if social media is changing how we see ourselves, how we communicate who we are, and increasing our narcissistic tendencies, surely there are societal implications for this.
Yeah, there are.
Narcissism and Aggression
Turns out, there is a relationship between narcissism and aggression. Ohio State University academics Sophie Kjærvik and Brad Bushman found a significant relationship between narcissism and aggression. “Narcissism is a significant risk factor for aggressive and violent behavior across the board,” said Brad Bushman. They also found that narcissism related to different kinds of aggression, including physical and verbal aggression, bullying both online and offline. So if you’ve been thinking that you’re just imagining that people are more hostile these days, you’re not. (An uptick in narcissism is one cause. More recently, COVID-19 is another. Read Increasing aggression during the COVID-19 lockdowns. )
Another societal shift aided by social media with some scary consequences is collective narcissism. Scott Barry Kaufman writes, “In its most extreme form, group narcissism can fuel political radicalism and potentially even violence. But in everyday settings, too, it can keep groups from listening to one another, and lead them to reduce people on the ‘other side’ to one-dimensional characters.”
Wow. That sounds like every day on social media.
Is There A Solution?
The genie is out of the bottle and there is no simple way to fix what’s been unleashed by social media other than to be aware of its effects, limit usage, and leverage its positives.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
While we are all feeling the effects of collective narcissism online, there are still plusses to social media. It has made finding and communicating with your tribe easier. If you were a vacuum fanatic, you used to have to travel to a yearly vacuum convention to hang out with your kind. Now, you can connect and chat online anytime with fellow vacuum enthusiasts.
Now, wherever your head is, you can find your kind. Fringe dwellers no longer need to be loners. You can find your peeps online. Some less-publicized social sites are:
MeWe is a “social and chat app that gives people sharing technology with privacy built into the design.” They don't share or sell your personal information. There are no ads, no targeting, and no newsfeed manipulation.
Digg is a social networking website for news junkies that features user-submitted news stories. If you want to know what the internet is talking about right now, go there.
Deviant Art is a forum for artists and art lovers.
Ello is “a global community of artists dedicated to creative excellence. Built by artists, for artists.”
And my favorite is the Lego Life app where you can upload photos of your latest Lego creation and comment on others’.
I’ve only scratched the surface of alternative social networks. There is a big internet out there beyond Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Perhaps if we all find our niche online tribe and decide to live and let live we can unlock the sense of connection we crave that is social media’s greatest promise.
Narcissism and Aggression
Narcissism linked to aggression in review of 437 studies: Study found relationship “across the board” all over the world by Jeff Grabmeier
Are we becoming more narcissistic? by Dr. Julia Shaw
Narcissism and Social Media: Should We Be Afraid? Research reveals a complex picture of the effects of social media on narcissism. by Dr. Phil Reed
What Collective Narcissism Does to Society by Scott Barry Kaufman
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