Social Networking phobia-something else to worry about.

I would like to welcome Internet Psychologist Graham Jones to my blog today. As you may know I don’t think we can afford to ignore psychology and the impact it has on how we communicate -I blogged about it here – not so long ago.

Graham has some ideas on why we might be reluctant to get stuck into social media like Twitter. Here is his piece:-

Some individuals are so frightened of meeting other people they become reclusive. They don’t venture out of the house and even answering the phone creates enormous feelings of unease. These people have social phobia, a condition that has only been recognised for the past 25 years or so.

Thankfully, there are treatments – from counselling to drugs and even surgery. Depression is often associated with social phobia, so treating this can often make people more willing to accept contact with other human beings. Even so, for the people who have social phobia, life can be a struggle.

You would have thought the Internet would help. After all, social phobics can lock themselves away at home, but still do all their shopping without ever having to go out of the house or see another person. Sounds like bliss for the person who is seeking isolation.

However, the way the web is working these days is increasingly social. Interaction online is fast becoming “the norm”. Interestingly, though, that is leading to an improvement for the true social phobic individual. Therapists are beginning to use the Internet to help treat people with social anxieties of all kinds. Using social networking sites in a controlled way, under supervision from a counsellor, means that people can gradually interact and they discover that encountering others is not the giant problem they thought it would be.

The issue, however, is that a new problem is arising – what you might call “social networking phobia”. This is where people develop all sorts of fears and concerns about social networking – often without foundation, based on rumour and speculation more than anything else.

For instance, some people believe that they might “do something wrong”. This is a typical concern with any technology and often holds people back. Assuming that they “might break it” or that they won’t be able to “undo” any errors, is what prevents many people from using social networks.

There is also the worry that having typed something on a social network it is “there forever” and if you make a comment in haste, you won’t be able to retrieve it and thereby save your reputation. So, the theory goes, it is best not to take part.

Equally, there are endless stories in the media about how “bad” social networking is. Recently, headlines screamed that “Facebook causes cancer”,  “Children exposed to pornography, prostitution and drugs on Twitter” and “Sex offenders booted off MySpace”. These headlines alone are surely enough to put off anyone with doubts about social networking.

As more and more people use Facebook –there are now 400m users – so too is there an increase in concern and anxiety about social networking. Larger numbers of people are avoiding social networks, or leaving them because of worries and anxiety about using them.

It all boils down to one simple psychological requirement – control. We have an inbuilt and desperate need to be in control of everything we do. That’s why we get frustrated at work with bosses who want to dominate and control us. It’s why many of us don’t like flying, because we have given up control to someone else.

On the Internet, if it is our own website, we are in charge. But if we accept comments, we are relinquishing some of that control. Equally, if we sign up to Facebook and start connecting with our friends, we allow them to say what they want about us – in public. We have lost control.

So how can you regain control, yet still take part in the social web, avoiding anxiety about what’s going on with the Internet these days?

There are three things you need to do:

  1. Take part: If you are not involved in social networks, other people can still talk about you and your work. It’s rather like your friends talking “behind your back” down the pub. If you are not there to defend yourself, they can make up all sorts of nonsense. You need to be involved.
  2. Blog: Having your own blog means you can start to dominate the web. The more you produce material about you, your work and so on, the more the search engines will favour your material over the rubbish other people produce about you. Their negative material will plummet down the search engine rankings once you become a regular blogger.
  3. Monitor: Use tools such as Google Alerts to get updates on every mention that is made about you on the Internet. You can then see what was said and whether or not you need to respond.

There is also a spin-off bonus in this strategy; you will discover that you cannot break things. You might make the odd mistake here and there, but your increased use of online technology will help you understand that you can remove errors. You will also realise that Facebook does not cause cancer and that it is populated by genuine, nice, happy, positive people who are “on your side”. True, there is the oddball around, but that’s the same for your office, your street and the local shopping centre. Don’t worry about it.

And remember, if people with true social phobia are being treated with online social networking, then those anxieties the rest of us have about using the social web can’t be that difficult to overcome.

Lucy says “Thanks Graham. Take a look at his useful website or contact him using the links below and see what I had to say when I guest posted on his site here.




2 responses to “Social Networking phobia-something else to worry about.

  1. Pingback: Masters In Counseling » What are You Afraid of? 25 Bizarre Phobias

  2. Social anxiety disorder greatly reduces the quality of a person’s life. People who suffer from social anxiety miss out on so much that life has to offer. Opportunities are greatly limited, because the person who suffers from social anxiety cannot take advantage of any opportunity that might require social interaction – and most opportunities in life do require some sort of social interaction.’

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