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Facebook narcissism

noun [uncountable]

an extreme interest in your own life, appearance and problems, caused by obsessive use of the Facebook social networking service

Facebook narcissist

noun [countable]

'Pouty photos and endless updates are signs of Facebook narcissism … Obsessively updating your status and posting pouty profile photos on Facebook could make you an online narcissist.'

news.com.au, Australia 30th August 2010

'Do you regularly update your Facebook status, write wall posts, or publish overtly sexy profile photos? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you may be a Facebook narcissist …'

CNBC 27th August 2010

In November 2010 it was announced that among those to jump on the social media bandwagon was none other than the Queen herself – yes, the British monarchy had launched a Facebook page. Though, unsurprisingly, it is not permitted to add the Queen to your 'friends' list, it is possible to 'like' her page. However anyone thinking this is an opportunity to air their anti-royalist views is wasting their breath, since after an initial ripple of negativity, all comments are now being moderated.

research suggests that, among 18-25 year-olds in particular, greater activity in the social media domain is linked to egotism and, interestingly, low self-esteem

Whatever your reaction to the monarchy, the fact that it has dipped its toe into the waters of social networking is another indication of the importance society now places on having an online identity. It is being argued by some, however, that the creation and maintenance of our social media persona can cause a kind of inward-looking, self-obsessed attitude – a phenomenon recently dubbed Facebook narcissism.

Recent research suggests that, among 18-25 year-olds in particular, greater online activity in the social media domain is linked to egotism and, interestingly, low self-esteem. It seems that young people use Facebook and other social media as a means of enhancing their self-image, regularly embellishing their profiles with photos of themselves and constant updates on what is happening to them – their feelings, worries, achievements, level of popularity, and so on. The argument is that Facebook has the tendency to fuel narcissistic attitudes to life – a situation of being excessively interested in yourself or your appearance. Those individuals who have fallen into this trap, unwittingly or otherwise, are correspondingly dubbed Facebook narcissists. At its most extreme, Facebook narcissism results in users presenting a kind of 'perfect' image of themselves which bears little resemblance to their personality in the real world.

Predictably, there have been conflicting attitudes to the concept of Facebook narcissism, with some people arguing that those who become Facebook narcissists do so only because they are self-obsessed in real life, and that there are plenty of social media users who do not behave in this way, simply using the platform as an effective and enjoyable way to communicate with others.

In a bizarre twist however, it was recently reported that in the US, Facebook narcissism was being exploited by federal agencies concerned with fraud detection and national security issues. Apparently, the narcissistic tendencies exhibited by users as they talk about their activities, friendships and concerns, provide an excellent opportunity for surveillance of the daily lives of those suspected of fraudulent or other criminal activity.

Background – Facebook narcissism

The debate about a connection between narcissistic tendencies and the use of social media has been bubbling away for the last couple of years or so, but the expression Facebook narcissism only really hit the spotlight in August 2010, in the context of a widely-reported study conducted by researchers at Canada's York University.

Social networking and its possible connection to egotistic attitudes has brought the word narcissism – conventionally perceived as a more formal, high-register term – into the mainstream. The word narcissism dates back to the 19th century and is based on the Greek Narkissos, which in mythology was the name of a beautiful youth who fell in love with his own reflection.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 29th November 2010.

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