Narcissism: a cautionary tale

What is the distinction between self-promotion and narcissism on social networking sites?

by Lolla Mohammed Nur

Have your parents ever nagged you about being a social media addict who wastes hours of time on websites like Facebook and Twitter? I hear it all the time: They say that maintaining online social “friendships” is superficial and pointless. Now, even experts argue that social media sites contribute to our narcissism.

Social psychologists and journalists like New York Times columnist David Brooks argue that the way our generation uses social media sites reveals a level of self-promotion not found among previous generations.

They say Generation Y has turned into Generation Me. Apparently our egoism is just a click away.

One argument is that Facebook can serve as an easy outlet for the self-loving among us to flaunt our personal lives to the public. ItâÄôs true that Facebook is always looking for innovative ways to cater to the individuality of its users. The new page layout, for example, lets you show off your languages, brag about where youâÄôve worked and list profound quotes that just scream “me.”

Perhaps you obsessively check Facebook throughout the day.

You probably jump on your phone every time you receive a text message, hoping itâÄôs a Facebook notification. Your fingers quiver with excitement as the suspense mounts. You wonder who of your 500 “friends” could be responsible for that bright red box on the top left corner of the screen. You click it.

Yes! Your friendship request was accepted, making your total number of friends 501 âÄî many more than the number of Facebook friends most of your peers have.

Another telltale sign of online narcissism is when you pull your phone out of your bag during class Monday morning, squirming to post an update about how amazing your weekend was. You planned that status the night before, spending hours agonizing over the exact phrasing before finally impressing your online groupies with your witty words.

Success! You received five “likes” in five minutes, moving your status from the bottom of the “Top News” feed to somewhere in the middle. Just provoke a few more “likes” and next time you really will be top news.

Does this sound like you? It might be an exaggeration, but you canâÄôt say youâÄôve never been guilty of using Facebook for an ego boost. Whether itâÄôs checking your page multiple times, posting mundane statuses about insignificant daily developments or comparing your profile to other friendâÄôs pages, using Facebook is one of the quickest ways to inflate your head. After all, weâÄôre social animals, and we do crave some attention âÄî thatâÄôs human nature.

ItâÄôs why Facebook has been successful. The site feeds into our guilty pleasures and provides an outlet for our naturally egotistical, adrenaline-rush-loving selves. Social media makes us feel like celebrities.

But is this narcissism? It depends on how you use it. Obviously there is an element of self-centrism on Facebook and Twitter. We want to know what our friends are up to, and we want others to know about us. ThatâÄôs the point.

The trick with social media sites is to know how to use them wisely and when to stop sharing information before you become too self-involved. Take yours truly for example: I inhabit the social media scene with my Facebook page, a Twitter account and two blogs. But I use these sites primarily to communicate with my friends.

On Twitter I follow several news sources and bloggers to keep up-to-date on all the news, which I wouldnâÄôt be able to do as efficiently otherwise.

There are also the professional networking opportunities. A few journalism professors have suggested their students use social media to get connected and promote their work online. A professor recommended I use LinkedIn to post my résumé and connect with employers. These days, it seems like every reporter has Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts to shamelessly self-promote their work. The question for me is: When does networking and branding become plain showing off?

According to new studies, social media users can exploit networking tools to promote themselves in a productive way âÄî sometimes.

According to a recent national San Diego State University study, out of more than 1,000 college students, 92 percent of respondents said they use MySpace or Facebook regularly, and 84 percent go online several times per day. A whopping two-thirds agreed their generation is more self-promoting, narcissistic and attention-seeking than previous generations. Fifty-seven percent said they attribute this narcissism to the use of social networking sites.

According to SDSUâÄôs website, a professor who collaborated on the study had this to say about the findings:

“Students are right about the influence of social networking sites âÄî research has shown that narcissistic people thrive on sites like Facebook, where self-centered people have more friends and post more attractive pictures of themselves.”

And hereâÄôs the kicker: Almost 40 percent of those polled think being narcissistic online is “helpful for succeeding in a competitive world.”

Perhaps Generation Y is more confident, and weâÄôre definitely more connected to technology than previous generations. Certainly, social media sites can serve as a self-promoting outlet for the attention seekers among us.

But overall, we do a good job of keeping our online egos in check. The key is to network and socialize online with moderation, without forgetting to take advantage of the vast networking opportunities.


Lolla Mohammed Nur welcomes comments at [email protected].