Nearly every morning, the Western world wakes to find a series of tweets from President Donald Trump. Mostly coming in the predawn hours, they range in topic and tone – often responding to, or creating, headlines of the day.
Trump has said that Twitter is his way of communicating his thoughts directly with the world, bypassing the more traditional means of using the news media, which he tends to distrust. The president’s daily use of social media begs the questions: Can people be addicted to social media? If so, is President Trump an addict?
“Yes and yes,” answered James Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.
Roberts is a nationally known expert on consumer behavior, social media and smartphone addiction, and the effects of smartphone use on relationships. He recently published a new edition of his book, “Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?” which includes a bonus chapter focused squarely on the Commander in Chief’s Twitter habits.
“Addiction is a strong word,” Roberts said. “It’s best understood and defined as ‘continuing a behavior despite its negative consequences for you and others around you.’ Yes, we can be addicted to social media use just like we can be addicted to drugs or alcohol. Addiction can result from any behavior that produces pleasure in the brain.”
In his look at President Trump, Roberts focused on the six core components applied by many health professionals when analyzing substance use disorders – salience, euphoria, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflicts and relapse.
Using what he knows of the president – most of which is public knowledge – Roberts, in the book, responded (on behalf of the president) to a series of 12 yes-and-no statements that the professor said helps measure those six components listed above. The statements include:
- I send tweets throughout the day.
- I feel compelled to tweet my opinions on topics important to me.
- I feel great when my tweets get a lot of attention.
- I feel better after tweeting something that needs to be said.
- Recently, I find myself tweeting more and more.
- I spend more time tweeting than I should.
- I get anxious when I can’t tweet out my thoughts on something.
- I would go into a panic if I lost access to my Twitter account.
- I have had serious arguments with others over my tweeting.
- My romantic partner says I need to cut back on my tweeting.
- I have tried to cut back on my tweeting but could not.
- I have tried to be more civil when tweeting but always go back to name calling and negative comments.
Based on knowledge of Trump’s habits, and after analyzing the president’s tweets, Roberts believes Trump would have affirmed at least 10 of those statements.
“If anyone replies ‘yes’ to eight or more of those statements, they need a Twitter intervention,” Roberts said.
The exercise of analyzing Trump’s use of social media can be seen as lighthearted, but Roberts’ research into social media and smartphone use has revealed some disturbing trends.
- One 2014 study found that college students spend eight to 10 hours per day on their devices.
- In 2015, Roberts and his colleague Meredith David, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing at Baylor, found that phone snubbing – or “phubbing” – can damage relationships and even lead to depression.
- In 2017, the researchers discovered that people who are “phubbed” by friends and loved ones often turn to social media to find acceptance.
Roberts said the trick to loosening social media’s grip on one’s life is to find your “digital sweet spot” where you are still connected but you have carved out time for the things that really matter. And regardless of whether someone’s use of social media is considered an “addiction,” there’s still a danger in using it too much, the professor said.
“Our inability to separate from technology is devastating to our well-being,” he said. “Even if it’s not an addiction, it’s a deeply ingrained habit.”