Under happy smiles is addiction's ugly face
New Zealand's Facebook army now totals an estimated 2.7 million users.
That's 80 per cent of the active online population in this country - streets ahead of Australia (71 per cent), Britain (68 per cent) and the United States (69 per cent).
Chances are you've already logged in to Facebook today; you might check in for regular updates while at work and just before you go to bed.
You post a status update and anxiously wait for feedback and approval, or find yourself slightly nauseated - or depressed - after reading yet another post about Jane's dreamy boyfriend who "just can't stop sending her flowers!".
Sound familiar, Facebookers?
Sara Chatwin, a registered psychologist and director of Auckland firm MindWorks, says more and more people are developing unhealthy Facebook habits to the detriment of normal, personable, face-to-face interaction.
"There are people who can't be away from it for any great length of time because they're hooked. They're hooked to news feeds and posts, they're just watching what's going on."
The anonymity of Facebook and the accessibility it gives to people's information feed the addiction, she says.
"There's not a lot of tracking [of Facebook activity], so there's not a lot of judgment so you can basically do whatever you want. It encourages stalking."
A study at York University in Toronto found people with narcissistic tendencies and low-self esteem were among the heaviest users of Facebook.
A Stanford University study found Facebook users consistently overestimated the fun their friends were having - and underestimated their negative experiences - reinforcing the human tendency to think that everyone else is happier than you are.
"Facebook doesn't present who we actually are," Ms Chatwin says. "People can engineer and manufacture the image that they want to put out there."
The social networking website is a useful business tool for disseminating information, and great for keeping in touch with friends overseas, but should not be used to create and develop relationships and friendships.
"It doesn't allow people to interact . . . you're not getting reality and you're not getting to know about that person. You're making judgments [about people] based on nonsense and unreality."
Martin Cocker, chief executive of cyber watchdog Netsafe, says internet addiction is close to being recognised as an official addiction. "We definitely see people who use social media to the detriment of other things in their life - like sports and schoolwork.
"We see it quite a bit with gaming as well, especially social gaming. Often the people who report it to us are concerned about family members or their children."
Facebook is supposed to be a social connector, but it can have the opposite effect, he says.
"There's more to meaningful relationships than telling people what you're doing, or giving something a Facebook ‘like'."
AVOID GETTING HOOKED
Kiwis spent an average of seven hours and 13 minutes on the site last month - slightly less than Australians. So how to keep your Facebook fetish at bay?
TIPS FOR PARENTS
Sources: Sara Chatwin, Netsafe, Psychology Today, Nielsen, WikiHow, Facebook, Avoid Facebook, Fairfax.
The Dominion Post