ASU author opens up conversation on the effects of social media

Addictive behavior and online image were explored in the book "Facehooked"

Social media interactions can have an impact on relationships in the real world. 

This idea was brought front and center at one of ASU’s monthly book group meetings, where the attendees discussed “Facehooked.

Facehooked” is a book written by ASU’s Dr. Suzana Flores, a staff psychologist and clinical coordinator of athletics at ASU counseling services.

Flores began exploring social media to understand why relationships were changing online.  

“I was in private practice in downtown Chicago when all of the sudden I began to notice a dramatic change in my client's clinical presentation namely on Facebook,” Flores said. “Individuals were sharing stories where they lost relationships, where they experience strife in their friendships based on misunderstandings triggered by certain posts. ”

The book explores ways in which Facebook can be a healthy tool for communication and examines different outcomes of social media. 

“It’s more a matter of noticing changes in our communication and our interactions and our emotional reactions to those changes,” Flores said. “And how we’re interpreting information nowadays compared to how we interpreted information before social media.”  

Flores said that many users overlook how public they make their information, she said.  Some are willing to remain oblivious to how much they share and what is made available to everyone through the internet. 

"We are willing to forego our privacy even going so far as to invite perfect strangers into our cyber world, our digital world," she said. 

Flores said one of her main goals is safety. The phone screen has morphed into a “metaphorical shield” with keyboards being “a bridge between our every thought in the world," she said. 

“With the instantaneous expression, with a lack of filter, reactivity and this illusionary shield... we feel more compelled or more comfortable either harassing others or antagonizing or instigating arguments,” Flores said. “Things we would never do if the person was right in front of us.”

Flores said the mobility of the smartphone has created the addictive element of social media. 

“We’re always reachable, the phone is always within arms reach,” Flores said. “We wouldn't go anywhere without it.”

Infographic: Facebook Inc. Dominates the Social Media Landscape | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista

Her book recognizes both the negative and positive potential of social media. 

"'Facehooked' is not about get off of social media,” Flores said. “It is about enjoying our digital connections but second only to our offline realities.”

Former ASU media relations specialist and founder of the ASU book group, Judith Smith, said silence is vital in a conversation which can’t occur over social media. 

“You need to be talking to people face to face if there is going to be silence so you can read their body language and their facial expression and finally ask them what is going on.”

Smith said there are instantaneous methods of sharing content over social media that leave a lasting impact. 

“You can post notes and pictures without even thinking about what the effect it’ll have on someone else or even you,” Smith said. “You can say things before you really think them through and you can’t undo that impression.”

Smith shared how some family relationships were strengthened for her by allowing her to feel “part of their life” through communication over Facebook. 

"It's like you’re having a discussion over coffee," she said. 

Smith said Facebook users need to be careful online because people can present themselves inauthentically. 

“There are limits to the ways in which you can construct your presentation in physical settings that are not as strict in digital ones," said Alex Halavais, the director of the MA in Social Technologies program and an associate professor. 

Halavais said online networking allows people to step out of their comfort zones.

“(Communication) has accelerated a social trend toward networked community,” Halavais said. “Now the types of relationships we can and do have are far more complex.”

Halavais said on average, a sociable presence online is complementary to a sociable person in the physical world.

“There are reasons to believe that appropriate use of networked, digital technologies can help create spaces for more intimate and friendly in-person relationships," he said. 

Halavais said addictive or compulsive behaviors happen because they are pleasurable and fulfilling. The ease of socializing over the internet can reach addictive levels.

“I suppose one might argue that social media makes sociability so much easier that it is simply too appealing to some people," he said. 

Halavais said that while certain aspects of social media affect our culture, it is ultimately up to the users of social platforms to determine long-term impact. 

“While there are certainly forms of sociability online that are certainly harmful both to the individual and to society...” Halavais said. “What social media represents is a new era of collaborative and participatory culture.”

Reach the reporter at and follow @sirmynameisnoah on Twitter. 

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