The Greek Methodological character Narcissus was handsome, self-involved and arrogant. He enjoyed spending all his time staring at his own reflection in a pool of water. Due to this behaviour, the Gods grew angry and turned him into a statue. However, after realising that they might have taken their anger too far, they turned him into a flower called “The Narcissus” (Lowrey, 2016).
Social Media Platforms provide each individual with a podium to inevitably drive ego and self-celebration. This article endeavours to explore the effects of social networking, with specific reference to Facebook, on narcissistic behaviours.
“Facebook and other social networks are mediums for narcissists to construct and maintain a carefully considered self-image” – Eliot Panek (Runkevicius, 2014).
Based upon research completed by a team of psychologists at the Brunel University in London, a direct link was found between one’s Facebook posts and the underlying psychological meanings they possess (Osburn, 2015). The study divides Facebook posts into categories such as romance, worldly happenings, the publisher’s children and the accomplishments, meals, diet and fitness regime of the publisher (Osburn, 2015).
The latter is described as being narcissistic behaviour (Osburn, 2015) or otherwise known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) (Lowrey, 2016). Runkevicius concurs with Osburn’s views by stating that there exists a link between Facebook activity and the degree to which the publisher is socially disruptive and narcissistic (Runkevicius, 2014).
In her article, published in Psychology Today, Catalina Toma discusses the characteristics of narcissism. Although it might be difficult to identify a narcissist due to their charming, animated and engaging manner (Toma, 2015), she describes this as someone:
With a grandiose self-view;
Who is pre-occupied with themselves;
Who is fixated on their own accomplishments;
With the inability to admit to personal flaws;
Who spends excessive amounts of time talking about themselves (Toma, 2015).
She furthers her definition by contextualizing that narcissism can be divided into two subdivisions. Firstly, exploitive (taking advantage of others) and secondly, entitlement (believing that they are the best) (Toma, 2015). She explains that this behaviour is often driven by self-doubt and the lack of social acceptance (Toma, 2015). Furthering on the exploitive nature of the narcissist, she explains that they are duly uninterested in people other than themselves. They merely use others as a source of affection, affirmation and validation (Toma, 2015).
In her article “Is Facebook Really a Playground for Narcissists”, Toma argues that all social networking, and specifically Facebook, acts as a haven for narcissistic behaviour (Toma, 2015). This is due to the fact that (by definition) Facebook invites a discussion of oneself, with the main aim of attracting “likes” and “comments”, irrespective of how insignificant the post might be (Toma, 2015).
She continues that, based upon a study conducted at the University of Michigan, Elliot Panek found that narcissists spend more time on Facebook than non-narcissists due to the engagement of self-promotion and aiming to attract attention (Toma, 2015; Panek, 2013).
Together with Panek, Toma, Mina Choi and Yioryos Nardis, conducted a study titled “When social media isn’t social: Friends’ responsiveness to narcissists on Facebook. Personality and Individual Differences (2015)”, they found that narcissistic posts received less attention on Facebook compared to non-narcissistic posts. They came to the sub-conclusion that although the publisher’s friends recognised the post, they intentionally kept their distance by ignoring the publication (Toma, 2015).
Concluding their research, Panek and her team argue that Facebook gives the narcissist a platform to self-promote, however, these posts alienate the Facebook audiences resulting in a lack of social validation (Toma, 2015). Are we then not dealing with an unstoppable cycle? Narcissists post to Facebook in search of social validation but (according to Toma) they never seem to find it, ultimately leading to more posts. Has this cycle built up too much momentum to rectify?
In his article “How Narcissistic Are You?”, “Take a Look at Your Facebook Status”, Jan Johnston Osburn opposes Toma’s findings above. Based upon research conducted through the Brunel University in London, he argues that narcissistic posts got a greater amount of “likes” and “comments”, compared to non-narcissistic posts (Osburn, 2015).
This gave the narcissist the attention and validation he/she was looking for (Osburn, 2015). He further identifies a trend which Toma does not discuss. He argues that even though these narcissistic posts received more attention in the form of “likes” and “comments”, friends merely reacted in support of the narcissist, while secretly disliking the egocentric posts (Osburn, 2015).
Tom Lowery’s article as published on business2community.com, partially agrees with the arguments of Toma, Osburn and Runkevicius, however, he cautions Facebook users against the paradigm that Facebook or any other form of social media causes NPD (Lowery, 2016).
He argues that although it is true that social media encourages self-promotion, NPD stems from self-esteem challenges on the part of the individual that is not “created” by social media (Lowrey, 2016). It is often grounded in something far more fundamental such as a fear of failure (Lowrey, 2016).
According to a publication on Mayo Clinic, NPD can be assisted through various therapies. These include sessions with clinical phycologists and psychiatrists (Mayo Clinic, 2014). Even though the three main studies referenced to within this article accumulated different results, they agree that social networking with specific emphasis on Facebook is a haven desired by narcissists searching for social acceptance through self-promotion in order to maintain their “carefully considered self-image”.
However, it is imperative to note that social media does not “create” NPD cases. It rather extends the reach of the narcissist.