Two hundred million members around the world, are you one of them? That’s right, Facebook. The popular social networking site has become a global phenomenon and continues to strive in its success, gaining hundreds of member’s everyday. Although it is true that Facebook is a useful website to interact with people and keep in touch with friends through wall discussions and other things, it can also prove to be very unpleasant at times in the way it is used.
“It can be very dangerous at times” says Nicola Cohen, a 22 year-old student from Essex. As we sit at her local coffee shop in Chelmsford, she began to tell the tale of how Facebook ruined her relationship, lost her friends and nearly led to a failed degree. Nicola is resentful of the day she became a member of Facebook. It is known to be addictive. A previous study has found that 70% of users become addicted and sign in around 15 times a day! This is how it started for Nicola; she decided to get it because almost all her classmates had it too. Once signed up, she was amazed at some of the people she found, old primary school friends and people who she hadn’t spoken to for years. It was also a good way to see what her friends were up to, through checking people’s statuses and looking through the pictures of their eventful weekend. But it was only a matter of time before the interest in the lives of other people on Facebook became obsessive. Admitting to checking her Facebook 10-15 times a day, Nicola confesses: “It would be the only thing I would be doing if I was at home, the first thing when I woke up and even if I would be out, I would sometimes get the urge to go to the nearest internet café to sign in”. And although she had replied to comments, accepted or declined friend requests and changed her status, she would still be on the site for at least another 3 hours.
These hours would be to pry on other people, this is commonly known to Facebook users as ‘Facebook stalking’. “Nobody likes to admit it, but everyone does it. You’ll be sitting there for hours looking at pictures of the hot guy down the road and it is daft to think that it would make more sense to go and have a face-to-face conversation with the person. The insight that is gained from someone’s profile may make their personality more apparent to you and you may even feel like you know them, when really you have never had more than a two minute conversation with them.
Addiction, that’s one thing, but Nicola’s problems worsened when her now previous boyfriend also decided to sign up to Facebook. Mike went through the same process of the compulsion, checking up on Nicola whenever he had the chance. “This is where it all started, the arguments. It was awful, he’d check who was writing on my wall and commenting on my pictures and every male that did would be told to stay away. I was constantly being accused of cheating, even though I knew this was nowhere near true. I had to try and prevent my male friends from leaving comments.” Of course they listened, but from hearing it, contact lessened and it seemed like they lost respect for Nicola.
“Things just got worse and worse, but it wasn’t just him that was doing the stalking. I admit I would tend to go on his profile a lot just to see if he was being completely honest with me. I found out a lot of stuff, mostly trivial, like lying about where he said he’d be and, although petty, it was the fact that they were lies.” Nicola began to feel like there was no trust what so ever in the relationship, not only did he not believe her when she said she wasn’t seeing anybody else, she realised that actually she didn’t trust him at all either. “If he can lie about minor details and be dishonest when it isn’t necessary, then who knows what he could be keeping from me. This was my general thought process.” It was time to end it, after their heavy three year relationship, they both decided it was time to go their separate ways.
Whilst all of the drama had been occurring over the last year or so, Nicola’s university work suffered a great deal. “I had been getting bad grades for the assignments I would stay up all night doing and it showed the times when things were really tough for me personally, I would be failing the coursework. And to other people it seemed ridiculous that I was letting my love life distract me, but it’s different when you’re actually in the situation yourself. When you think you’re in love, the thought of losing that person is all that matters.” It got to the point where Nicola’s tutors had noticed a dramatic change in her work, attendance and enthusiasm, not to mention the times they caught her on Facebook in the middle of her lectures. So, they got into contact with her, this is when she realised that she had let it all get on top of her.
“I deactivated my Facebook account. I thought that would solve my problems, but I lasted two days and I just had to get back onto it to check up on Mike.” Facebook allows users to deactivate their accounts, but this can be temporary. Nicola wasn’t impressed by what she saw, people who she thought were her friends had been making bitchy comments about her, and Mike had seemed like he had moved on. Losing her boyfriend, having friends turn against her and failing her degree, Nicola was unhappy and at her lowest point.
Psychotherapy helped Nicola get over her dependence of Facebook and with this came an understanding of what was really important in her life – herself. “I got over the boyfriend, found out who my real friends were and focused on the most important thing; my education, because it will take me where I want to be and unlock so many more opportunities for me.”