FoMO: Social Media Addiction or Mental Illness?

young adults staring at mobile devices

What's ironic is that “social media addiction” is in everyone's face. It's not hidden, and no one seems to be very ashamed of it. It’s a socially acceptable addiction, but the sad thing is that most people aren’t even aware that they are addicted. Think about how many times you reach for your phone in a given day just to check your favorite social media site.

You go on Facebook or Twitter just to see what is happening in the lives of others. When people have a fear of missing out, it also prompts them to post pictures to show others that they are having fun too. Facebook is brilliant with encouraging this never-ending cycle.

What Is FoMO?

According to Tarsha (2016), FoMO is defined as, “The fears, worries, and anxieties people may have in relation to being in (or out of) touch with the events, experiences, and conversations happening across their extended social circles.”

7 out of 10 Americans use social media to connect with one another.

As a licensed clinical psychologist, several of my clients mention the effects that social media have had on them, such as making them feel more depressed. They look on their Facebook newsfeed because they start to feel anxious about not knowing what is happening in the daily lives of those they call “friends.” However, when they look at the newsfeed, they start to feel inadequate due to what they see, such as pictures of friends having an exciting time together at a social event or on an amazing vacation. Yet the disappointment and sadness don’t prevent them from going back. This explains the phenomenon associated with FoMO (Fear of Missing Out), nomophobia (fear of no cellular phone access), or disconnection anxiety (each one of these concepts takes on a similar meaning) (Tarsha, 2016).

How Many People Are Affected?

According to the Pew Research Center (2017), around 7 out of 10 Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with news content, share information, and entertain themselves. The Pew Research Center has been tracking social media use since 2005. Here are the results:

  • In 2005, 5% of American adults used at least one social media platform. By 2011, 50% of Americans were using social media platforms, and by 2016, 69% of adults engage in social media.
  • Daily use per platform: 76% Facebook; 51% Instagram; 42% Twitter; 25% Pinterest; 18% LinkedIn.

Facebook Winning the Race

Since Facebook is the social media platform used most often on a daily basis, it might put things into perspective to know how many people’s lives are affected just by Facebook alone.

The latest update made in June of 2017 from the Facebook Newsroom website reported the following:

  • 1.32 billion daily active users
  • 2.01 billion monthly active users (if Facebook were a country, it would be the largest country in the world)
  • 85% of daily active users are outside the US
  • The United States is the leading country for most total Facebook users, at 13%

Social Media Must Be Amazing, Right?

Imagine the first time you were exposed to social media, through whatever platform that was. What attracted you to it? What did your friends say about it that made it more inviting? Here are some reasons most people initially created a social media account:

  • Allowed them to find old friends they haven’t connected with in years
  • Allowed them to connect with family members they rarely visit
  • Allowed them to stay more connected with local friends by seeing what they were up to on a given day
  • Made them feel like they belong to a small community without ever leaving their home

In my experience, the longer people use their social media account, the more it creates an illusion of feeling connected. Think about people who accept friend requests even from strangers. Having a substantial number of “friends” on Facebook can give them the false sense of popularity and acceptance. This “dark” side of social media is only half the story, and we encourage you to dig into more learnings on human psychology, how societies operate, and the science behind behaviors.



Written by Dr. Sonja Bethune, Core Faculty in the Division of General Education


Pew Research Center. (2017, January 12). Social media fact sheet. Retrieved from

Tarsha, A. A. (2016). The role of existential therapy in the prevention of social media-driven anxiety. Existential Analysis, 27(2), 382-388.

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