Is online social media just a narcissist craving for attention?

Guest post by writer and adventurer Pam Johnson, who lives in the Pacific Northwest, takes a look at what’s behind the emotional need for online social media. Follow her online at

Is it just me? Or do you also grapple with the vain, self-absorbed, “narcissistic” characteristics of social media?

Writer Pam Johnson

Writer Pam Johnson

In an earlier article I talked about my initial disdain as a baby boomer for all things “social media,” believing it to be “the purview of the nerdy, the lonely, and those with entirely too much time on their hands.” And yet I also admitted to being a teeny tiny bit jealous. But that was then.

Fast forward to now. I am enthusiastically absorbing all manner of social media, with Twitter, blogging, and to a lesser extent Facebook, as my platforms of choice.

I am not going to lie to you, there are days where I am not so enthusiastic and in fact have some trepidation about all this. Remember, we baby boomers didn’t exactly grow up with all this! There are days when I really feel that social media is so darned narcissistic. What does that say about me? So, I decided to delve a little further into this topic of social media and narcissism. I was surprised by the sheer number of links that materialized when I Google-searched Social Media and Narcissism.

An excerpt from a recent article by David Copeland reflects some of the confusion, and the schizophrenic nature of trying to create marketing strategies around it:

“An individual’s level of narcissism is displayed not in how many Twitter followers they have, but is more closely correlated to how many Tweets they send about themselves. But on Facebook, the opposite holds true: Narcissism was directly correlated with the number of friends a person has on the social network, and not necessarily by the number of status updates they post about their personal lives.”

Another recent study establishes a direct link between the number of friends you have on Facebook and the degree to which you are a “socially disruptive narcissist …”

Yet another study says there is no tie between narcissism and social media:

“We do know that narcissism levels among millennials are higher than previous generations and that this rise in narcissism has coincided with the explosion of Facebook. However, our research suggests that (social networking) is not an indicator of narcissism, but rather a product of the times…those who exhibited high levels of narcissism didn’t update their statuses or spend more time on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks than participants with low levels of narcissism.”

Confused? There are many more studies and articles, each with its own slant, focus, and biases, so it would be unfair to extrapolate results to society-at-large and still be fair. It does, however, fuel dialogue.

A traditional manner of social interaction among the Songpan people of northern China.

A traditional manner of social interaction among the Songpan people of northern China.

So, am I a narcissist? If you were to refer to Wikipedia, David Thomas, author of “Narcissism: Behind the Mask”, suggests that narcissists typically display most, sometimes all, of the following traits:

  • An obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges
  • Problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
  • A lack of psychological awareness
  • Difficulty with empathy
  • Problems distinguishing the self from others
  • Hypersensitivity to any insults or imagined insults
  • Vulnerability to shame rather than guilt
  • Haughty body language
  • Flattery towards people who admire and affirm them
  • Detesting those who do not admire them
  • Using other people without considering the cost of doing so
  • Pretending to be more important than they really are
  • Bragging (subtly but persistently) and exaggerating their achievements
  • Claiming to be an “expert” at many things
  • Inability to view the world from the perspective of other people
  • Denial of remorse and gratitude

Hmmm, so let me think … I used to have difficulty sustaining good relationships, I have been known to be sensitive to insults, and at times I stubbornly hold true to my perspective of things and people. Oh Gosh. But hey, I only have five Facebook Likes!! Is it just me?

There is something to say for communicating the old fashioned way.