While waiting for Facebook’s astronomically dizzying IPO, I started to do some research about FAD (Facebook Addiction Disorder) in Malaysia. After making a pitch to my Tokyo contact for Newsweek (Japan), I was assigned a story to be printed in an issue that, perhaps unfairly at times, does a bit of social media demonizing. Nonetheless, Malaysia makes for an intriguing case study in social media addiction and privacy norms.
Below I’ve reproduced the article which was printed on February 22 in Japanese since their site doesn’t have an English language page. Originally meant to be 500 words, I pushed it so I could jam a bit of extra information into what is quite a broad topic. (Note: Japanese translation may not exactly reflect English text.)
Update: Newsweek (Japan) published this story online on April 23.
The global growth of social networking sites (SNS) has changed how we connect, allowing us to instantaneously converse about where we “share,” what we “like,” and who we “follow.” But increased interconnectivity is not without its pitfalls, as many avid users are finding out. On a medium where many young Asians find comfort in expressing private thoughts, personal information can unknowingly become public and public sentiment can quickly turn personal.
A recent study concluded that Facebook addiction amongst university students is prominent in Malaysia, especially with females. Facebook Addiction Disorder (FAD) is a term that was first conceived by American psychologists to describe those who take the leap from social networking to social dysfunction, a trend purportedly on the rise. Last month in Kuala Lumpur, Dr. Nivashinie Mohan, a neuropsychologist, held a FAD forum at Gleneagles Hospital. The event received an inundation of media attention.
The problems born of the social media landscape tend to be varied. “One of my clients was hooked to Facebook games,” Dr. Nivashinie said, “and this interrupted their day-to-day work.” Couples are citing Facebook as a major cause of their break-up, Dr. Nivashinie also noted. Finding messages from paramours or suspicious photos creates friction. And at the rate Malaysians engage in SNS it wouldn’t be hard to discover. Malaysia was dubbed the country with the most social network friends in 2010, and Facebook accounts for 77% of social network users. For Malaysians, online friendships appear to be blossoming.
Since this is a new phenomenon it is easy to go undiagnosed, which may exacerbate already serious conditions. “Many teenagers are using [Facebook] as an avenue to express themselves and get caught up in the extra attention,” Dr. Nivashinie explained. I had one client who was distressed when he concluded that “his real life did not match up to his Facebook persona, which led to his depression getting worse.” This then turned into “suicidal ideation” – or the formation of suicidal thoughts.
Taken in moderation, experts realize that social networking is a legitimate form of communication. However, in Southeast Asia, where social media enjoys a wide following and some of the highest penetration worldwide, it has been proven that it is possible to share too much.
Last month, two students were detained in Malaysia following separate incidents for allegedly writing threatening messages about Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak on Facebook. The 20-year-old university female student who was part of the second incident had her hand phone and computer seized by the police. The students likely learned a similar lesson: on Facebook, where unknown persons can see your comments without consent, a sarcastic quip can become virulent.
Yet many Malaysians enjoy sharing personal musings and indulging in political discourse. According to Burson-Marsteller, a PR and communications firm based in Singapore, 42.2 percent of Malaysian Internet users are on blogspot. Timothy Tiah, the 28-year-old Malaysian co-founder of Nuffnang, Southeast Asia’s largest blogger community, has seen his company expand rapidly thanks in part to added traffic from Facebook and Twitter. So when it comes to those in his community endangering themselves, Tiah takes a step back to explain his perspective on privacy. “In our Australian market, bloggers are more concerned about privacy so they blog much less about their personal lives,” Tiah said. “In Malaysia though, the vast majority of blogs are personal lifestyle blogs because we’re generally more open about our lives. It’s not that we don’t care about privacy. Maybe it’s just a bit less of a concern to [Malaysians].” Perhaps in rapidly developing Malaysia, where new technology quickly supplements shy tendencies, expressing yourself behind a screen is more favorable than standing face-to-face, despite the hidden risks.