It has been slightly over a decade since the infamous Tom launched the first major social network, Myspace. The site provided a way for current friends to chat and old friends to reconnect. It was not long before Myspace became an epicenter for new and old friendships, as well as a display of the individual’s personality, making it aptly titled. With the progression of Myspace, and other social networks like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram have stopped encouraging friendships and started encouraging the sharing of thoughts and photos. What was once a tool for connection to others, a network, had become an instrument for narcissism.
Social networking began as just that, a network. Most users were encouraged, almost to the point of irritation, to use every method available in order to find their current and old friends. New friendships also have also blossomed on social networks. However, according to Shawn M. Bergman and his associated, authors of “Millennials, Narcissism, and Social Networking: What Narcissists Do on Social Networks and Why,” social networks are more likely to encourage individual thoughts and photos, than connections (707). Bergman’s article examined the trends in social networks from their conception until present day. The results found showed that over time, social networks not only gave its users the options to share their thoughts, but also encouraged them to do so. This effectively resulted in the 24 hour-a-day question, “What are you thinking?” Users, perhaps subconsciously, delighted in this attention and began flooding social networks of all varieties with every thought that entered their mind (709). In order to test their theory about whether social networking was creating a generation of narcissists, Bergman and his team gathered a group of 100 participants. Fifty of them had been using at least one method of social networking for at least one year while the other fifty had never used a social networking site at all. The participants were asked a series of questions designed to discover if they thought others held their opinions or thoughts in high esteem. The results were as the team predicted. 100% of the participants using social networking sites thought that everybody, including total strangers, would find their thoughts, advice, or opinions valuable to their everyday lives. The remaining participants did not believe that their idea or opinions would make a significant difference in the lives of strangers or acquaintances (710). These results showed that while social networks once promoted connection, but they now only promote the sharing of unwanted thoughts and opinions, effectively breeding narcissism.
In a similar study, Nathan C. DeWall found that social networking pushed the bounds of narcissism one step further in terms of what people think of their own opinions. In a study published in Personality and Individual Differences, DeWall and his associates discovered what was previously assumed, that individuals who used social networks did believe their opinions meant more to others. What they also found was that these same individuals believed their opinions were so important that they would sometimes spend significant portions of their day scrolling through their social network feed looking for conversations to interject upon (60). DeWall found that whether they knew the individual closely or not did not matter. The team of researchers also discovered that the users only believed that their opinion mattered, and would even add advice to questions that desired medical or scientific estimation (61). Social networks had acted as a constant portal of opinion, convincing users so thoroughly that their every thought mattered. Eventually users’ narcissism surpassed posting only on their own page and needed to be satisfied by posting unsolicited opinions on the pages of other users. DeWall and the team also found an interesting stage of conflict that would often happen when one labeled narcissist would comment on the page of another labeled narcissist. Both individuals would consider their opinion to be the truth; they would not recognize that opinions are not a basis for empirical reality. Many times arguments would ensue when one person would post an opinion on another individual’s status, which was also an opinion. The original poster was often so self-absorbed that they expected everybody to agree with them while the commenter would exceed levels of narcissism that left them shocked that anybody could openly post something that agreed with their ideals (62).
The narcissistic effects of social networking have also promoted the idea of self-image. Bruce C. McKinney, Lynne Kelly Robert L. Duran assessed how social networks impact the way we look at ourselves in an article called, “Narcissism or Openness?: College Students Use of Facebook and Twitter.” The researchers found that social networks like Facebook and Twitter, as well as Instagram, asked for an overwhelming amount of photos from users. This began as users sharing photos of themselves with families and friends, or themselves accomplishing things throughout their lives. This was one of the first evident instances when the user forced the social network to evolve. Users who typically wait for an opportunity to have a picture of themselves taken by somebody else, or crop others out of a photo, began taking photos of themselves. Social networks saw this evolution take place and dubbed this type of photo a “selfie (114).” Social networks promoted the selfie across the internet, encouraging users to take photos of themselves in a variety of ways, whether it was from holding the camera or phone out in front of themselves, or taking photos of themselves in the mirror. The very popular “duck-face” became the tail end of many jokes, but social network users were insistent that the look was popular and looked good. McKinney, Kelly, and Duran discovered first with the duck-face that social networking promoted narcissism. Social networks managed to convince young individuals, primarily women, across the world, into thinking that particular face, that was a joke to everybody else, made them look attractive (115).
The same team of researchers also studied 150 different college students who all used Facebook and Twitter. All of the participants had instructions to use social networks as they normally would for three months. At the end of the three months, the team collected the user’s individual photos. The researchers found that 85% of the participants posted selfies 70 out of the 85 days, most of which were indiscernible from the others. This suggested to the researchers that social networks stress posting photos so highly that individuals forget the value of the photo itself (116). Typically, photos represent memories but it was clear by the end of the study that users began posting photos of themselves specifically for attention, often with headlines like “I look bad,” and “Ignore my ugly face,” as if to entice others to compliment them and further inflate their growing narcissism (118).
In sum, social networks did begin as a tool for good but their gradual evolution as proved annoying. While many people still use social networks for their original intended purpose, the majority use them as gateways to feed their narcissism and self-importance. Social networks began to forget their original reason for existing, to bring people together, and began promoting the individual. In the beginning, this was a nice change but it has left the internet, and society, full of self-absorbed lunatics. They are convinced they must share their every thought on their own page, as well as the pages of others. They are also positive that the world must see their face at least once a day or society may come to a screeching halt. While social networks may have a purpose that is good, primarily they are now vessels for narcissistic purposes.
Bergman, Shawn M., et al. "Millennials, Narcissism, and Social Networking: What Narcissists Do On Social Networking Sites and Why." Personality and Individual Differences (2011): 706-711. Print.
DeWall C., Nathan, et al. "Narcissism and Implicit Attention Seeking: Evidence From Linguistic Analyses of Social Networking and Online Presentation." Personality and Individual Differences (2011): 57-62. Print.
McKinney, Bruce C., Lynne Kelly and Robert L. Duran. "Narcissism or Openness?: College Students’ Use of Facebook and Twitter." Communication Research Reports (2012): 108-118. Print.