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Alright, the first thing I want to mention about this subject is that is not an actual disorder, or at least it isn't recognized as one yet, so I'm not going to have hardcore scientific sources to show you. I guess you could say I'm researching the possibility of social media anxiety disorder in relation to social anxiety disorder, which is recognized as a legitimate disorder. As to why in the world I'm doing this...well, this describes my relationship to the Internet almost to a T, so I wanted to explore it a bit and decided to drag you guys along with me.

Social Anxiety vs. Social Media Anxiety

As my title so clearly states, I am not an expert. Quite frankly, all of this is just the quasi-scientific musings of a girl who has access to Google and a lot of free time on her hands, but all that aside, I think there is a distinct difference between plain social anxiety and social media anxiety. Social anxiety is a disorder where being in social situations (anywhere from one-on-one chats and dates to speeches and large parties) brings on a state of fear that is so debilitating that a person will try and avoid them as much as possible. Social media anxiety is when someone becomes anxious about anything dealing with social media. An example would be when you post something on Facebook and you keep checking constantly to see if someone commented or liked it or you send a text and keep checking for a response, getting more and more worried the longer there is no answer. 

While it's true both of these states of mind involve fear of the opinions and/or reactions of other people, as I see it there is one major difference between the two: one is a fear of actually interacting with people in real life, while the other is a fear of the nebulous mass of unknown opinions that makes up the internet. My reasoning behind this conclusion is that, from what I've seen on various social anxiety disorder forums, the majority of people who suffer from social anxiety show a certain level of comfort dealing with the crowded hub that is the internet, as it is done from the safety of a computer monitor. This revelation reminds me of a bit that one of my favorite comedians, Craig Ferguson, does in one of his stand-up specials about anonymity and the internet. He equates the anonymity of interacting with people on the internet to driving in a car, reasoning that most people are more aggressive and jerk-like when driving because they feel protected by the hulking metal contraption they are ensconced in. This is why it is possible for someone who suffers from social anxiety, and is unable to interact with people in real life, can comfortably deal with strangers on the internet. The car-like safety of being anonymous gives them the confidence to push past their anxiety, but social media anxiety has the exact opposite effect. It seems to me that social media anxiety, to expand on Craig's metaphor, feels like trying to cross a six lane highway aided by nothing other than your running shoes: there is no protective feeling of anonymity and other people who are comfortable with anonymity (who are riding in armored Humvees) make you more anxious.

So Basically They Are The Same, Right?

Okay, so you're probably thinking that, since these are both dealing with being afraid of people's opinions, these concepts are pretty much the same, but I've come to the conclusion that while they are very similar, they are not interchangeable. As I stated in the above section, it seems that a person who suffers from social anxiety is completely able to function on social media and the internet without adverse reactions.  While on the social anxiety forums, I saw many people who described debilitating symptoms of social anxiety, but it appeared they were able to overcome that because of the anonymity of being on the internet. The same concept can be applied to someone who might suffer from social media anxiety. This person might have a regular out-going type personality but when faced with something like their Facebook or Twitter posts, they become a bit of a basket case, constantly checking for updates and new messages.

I also think it's possible for a person to suffer from both types of anxiety, mainly because I believe I do. After doing extensive research and taking multiple online tests, I believe I suffer from, at least, a mild case of social anxiety (yes, I know I should probably see a psychologist to be sure, but holy moley expensive Batman!). I have a tendency to come up with ridiculous reasons to not go to gatherings where there are people who aren't family or very close friends and even the gatherings that meet that criteria make me feel so uncomfortable I get a little sick. But in all of my research, I didn't really find anything concerning the problem I have with being afraid of people on the internet. All of the information I found about social anxiety only covered my fears of real live people in real live situations; there was nothing about feeling terrified of pushing the "post" button on Facebook or the anxious and obsessive way I check the various sites I'm on for updates and messages. Social media anxiety seems to fill in that blank.

Well, Just Stop Logging In

I'm going to read your mind again and you are thinking "well if Facebook (or whatever social network site is your poison of choice) makes you anxious, why don't you just log out or delete your account?"

The problem with this is that, and I'm going with personal experience here, you can't. Having social media anxiety creates this compulsion to check for notifications or updates that is almost impossible to ignore. Even while you're logging into check, despite the fact it's the millionth time in an hour, some part of your mind is saying "why are we doing this? we know nothing has probably changed and this is has to be some sort of obsessive behavior"....but you hit that log in button regardless.

Another reason just unplugging the computer won't work is the simple fact that social media and the internet has permeated almost every facet of modern day life. It might be possible for someone with social media anxiety to quit accessing the source of their distress if they were able to just cut out the internet completely but considering how crucial the internet has become to some primary aspects of life, it seems impossible to do that especially for the younger generations who are more likely to have this affliction. For example, let's say average college student Susie-Sue has realized that she has a problem with being anxious about social media. Being a logical girl, she decides to limit her time on the sites to cut down on the anxiety but unfortunately she is not sucessful due to the compulsion to check her websites. The next logical step would be to take away access to the internet completely to avoid the temptation but she is unable to do that because not only do a large amount of her classes require online learning modules and other internet related resources, a lot of colleges are starting to use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, more and more frequently for outlets for their information.

So your point is...

In conclusion, I think that while social anxiety and social media anxiety are definitely part of the same family tree, and are probably on the same branch, they aren't exactly the same thing. People who suffer from social anxiety might be perfectly comfortable navigating the internet and social media while someone who can handle real life social situations has issues with being able to use social media or other aspects of the internet where other people can anonymously leave opinions about their lives or thoughts. It kind of make me thing of the geometry rule I was taught when I was little, that all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares, someone may have both social anxiety and social media anxiety but it some one has one, it doesn't necessarily mean they have the other.

 

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-holm/social-anxiety-and-internet_b_2632610.html

http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/10/05/depression.adhd.internet.addiction/index.html?_s=PM:HEALTH

http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2012/04/social-media-anxiety-disorder

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