Microblogging: Is obsession with Twitter and Tumblr a form of Internet addiction?

Internet addiction is a well-established disorder. Several studies have been published regarding overuse of the Internet and possibly related psychological effects, including isolation and self-judgment. Recent research published in the PLoS ONE journal suggests that microblogs may be associated with different signs of addiction.

Microblogs like Twitter and Tumblr differ from previously studied Internet activities (e.g. gambling, sexual activities) because of the social component, according to co-authors Juan Hou, Zhichao Huang, and Hongxia Li.

“The primary reason for using microblogs is self-presentation; that is, discussing shared-interest topics or hot news to broaden one’s social networking size,” the authors said. Because of this distinction, the team created an assessment to determine addictive behaviors related to microblogging.

The study, which targeted 3,047 college students in China, included measures of participants’ frequency and length of microblog use, as well as questionnaires regarding social interaction and self-disclosure. The Microblog Excessive Use Scale (MEUS), adapted from Young’s Internet Addiction Test (IAT), measures participants’ dependency according to three factors: withdrawal and health problem; time management and performance; and social comfort. Though withdrawal and time management are associated with the IAT, social comfort is a category exclusive to the microblog assessment.

“The motivation for people using social networks […] is to seek social comfort and reduce loneliness, while individuals play Internet games more for realistic alternative,” the team wrote.

Researchers found that, like Internet addicts, participants who used microblogs excessively were more likely to have results indicative of withdrawals, dependency and time management issues. According to Hou, Huang and Li, participants who showed signs of addiction were not necessarily the ones who spend the most time on the microblogs; instead, they were the ones who always microblog in their free time or who constantly think about it throughout the day.

A key distinction for the participants who scored high in microblog dependency is that they also scored high in social interaction, unlike typical Internet addicts.  Also, a significantly larger proportion of excessive microblog users were female, despite the fact that most Internet addicts are male.

According to the research team, the findings demonstrate that further research is necessary in order to understand microblog dependency as a unique issue.

“The effect of the Internet may continue to change and become more complex, and so requires further attention and study,” wrote Hou, Huang and Li.