Social media addiction takes toll on academic performance

Research shows that African students spend too much time on social media. This not only negatively affects their studies, but also their mental health. And the addiction seems to be rising, increasing the risk of depression and anxiety.

Essentially, social media platforms are web-based sites that allow a person to build interactions with other people and share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. Some of the popular social media platforms in Africa include Facebook, Telegram, WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok, Discord, Snapchat, WeChat, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube.

But, unlike the traditional forms of internet-based communication whereby users are passive consumers of information, social media platforms are multidirectional and allow instant messaging, social networking, micro-blogging, and photograph and video-sharing in real time.

In this regard, researchers are worried that many university students in Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond are spending too much time hooked to those networks, even when they are supposed to be reading in the libraries or attending in-person lectures.

Facebook addiction rising in Ethiopia

Highlighting the issue among Ethiopian university students, Aman Dule, a lecturer in psychiatry at the University of Mettu, found that most students are addicted to social media platforms, especially Facebook, which is used by about 96% of students.

In the study, ‘Facebook addiction and affected academic performance among Ethiopian university students: A cross-sectional study’, that sampled 422 undergraduate students at the University of Mettu, Dule and his associates found that 67.2% of students were addicted to Facebook. The study was published on 6 February 2023 in PLOS ONE, an open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal.

According to the researchers, the aim of the study was to evaluate the extent of Facebook addiction and its relation to the academic performances of undergraduate students and find ways to challenge the problem that could cause disruptions in academic achievement. “No study had examined Facebook addiction in Ethiopia as far as we could determine, and this study was considered a pioneer in the country,” Dule stated.

South Africans among the most active internet users

On average, the students spent 67 minutes daily on Facebook and most of those addicted to the social platform were found to have poor study habits and expressed low self-esteem. Other addicted students, according to the study, had depressive or anxiety symptoms.

Investigating the role of social media in student lives at the University of the Free State in South Africa, Dr Ruth Wario, a senior lecturer of computer science and informatics, found that social media platforms were highly patronised by the students at her university.

In the paper, ‘Investigating Use and Impact of Social Media on Student Academic Performance: Case of a university in South Africa’ that she presented at a conference on computer science and information systems held in July 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal, Wario noted that students were spending too much time on social media platforms daily.

Approximately a third (32%) of respondents indicated that they spent 6-8 hours on social media on a daily basis, 31% spent 3-5 hours, while 28% spent more than eight hours on social media each day. Of the respondents, 9% spent between one and two hours a day on social media.

“Because of the long hours spent on social media platforms, 64% of respondents indicated social media had a negative impact on their academic performance in contrast to 4% of respondents that disagreed,” stated the study.

Wario found that WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube (in that order) were the most dominant social media platforms among students. Her study is consistent with findings in the Global State of Digital Report that indicates that South Africans are major users of the internet. According to the Digital 2022 Global Overview Report, South Africans spent on average 10.46 hours a day on the internet.

Excessive use has pitfalls

In an article published on 13 July 2017 in the Journal of Social Sciences, three researchers from the department of sociology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa argued that, whereas social media platforms offer university students opportunities to connect with several interesting social networks as well as establish relationships with potential friends, university colleagues and campus organisations, excessive use had pitfalls.

The study, ‘Social Media Use and Academic Performance of Undergraduate Students in South African Higher Institutions: The case of the University of Zululand’, indicated that students were spending more time on WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram than on Wikipedia.

The researchers noted that time on task is important for academic performance and students who spend more time on social media ultimately have less time for academic work, leading to lower grades. The researchers advised students to reserve weekends for social media usage, while the other days of the week should be for academic activities.

“We recommend that students should invest more time in visiting the library and reading books for more information regarding their subjects or learning modules,” they said.

Researchers agree that, while the internet is a revolutionary communication technology that would provide students with opportunities to improve learning, excessive use has a negative impact on academic performance.

According to Wario, some of the prevailing problems affecting university students with regard to excessive use of social media platforms are addiction, time consumption, cyberbullying, social isolation, monophobia and poor academic performance.

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