According to the BBC, British teenagers now spend an average of 18 hours a week on their phones, much of it using social media. Social media addiction is now a growing concern.
Mobile data platform Ogury’s own data, shared with Verdict, showed that on average users check Facebook 17 times a day and Instagram and Snapchat eight times a day. This highlights the compulsive, repetitive action of checking social media. People are becoming increasingly attached to their mobile devices and access to social media.
Social media addiction is encouraged by the design of platforms to be maximally addictive. Features such as infinite scroll and ‘like’ button now characterise our social media and have contributed significantly to increasing social media addiction.
Although their creators stress the inventions were not intentionally addictive, social media platforms benefit from increased traffic and time spent on the platform. The colour red is used for the same purpose, for example in notification badges, to drive people to engage.
Social media also exploits vulnerability in human psychology. Facebook intended to get people closer together, but now people crave connection and validation via their social media.
Like any addiction, social media addiction can negatively influence multiple aspects of an individual’s life, including mental health and relationships.
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So should social media platforms be regulated? Verdict spoke to industry experts for comments on whether social media platforms should be regulated to help combat social media addiction.
Experts on whether regulation should be used to curb social media addiction
Combat the ‘slot machine effect’
“I think social media apps have made addiction far too commonplace with the constant notifications that entice users to check their apps sometimes hundreds of times a day. I think there should be regulations in place to decrease the ‘slot machine effect’ that these apps are designed to do. I also think more attention should be focused on apps that can inhibit the compulsive use of these apps.”
Sarah Stromsdorfer, Occupational Therapist and founder of My OT Spot
Addiction cannot be completely prevented
“With the exception of GDPR, and government censorship in authoritarian countries, governments have been loath to regulate social media. Regulation can prevent tech growth and be a limitation on free speech.
“The truth is that we cannot stop all addiction. People can become addicted to drugs, gambling, sex, or even exercise to where it becomes unhealthy. While some apps are specifically designed to be more addictive, we must ask whether the government should be trying to protect us from ourselves?
“We place limitations on drugs, gambling, and prostitution, but there is a moral component to these addictions that does not exist when it comes to social media apps. While regulation of social media by the government is warranted, rather than attacking a problem faced by a small minority, the government should first look into how social media platforms protect our privacy and examine how this should be better regulated.”
Andrew Selepak, PhD, professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida, and Director of the graduate program in social media
Social media companies should not take sole responsibility
“We are now living in a mostly digital world, yet many of our laws and legislation are not completely correlated to how much time we spend online, what data we give away and how that data is used. The GDPR, introduced in May this year, was just one example of regulation playing catch up and similarly the new e-privacy regulation launching later this year will have similar impacts on data-sharing and put the consumer back in control.
“While we wouldn’t expect total regulation on every social media platform, it should be treated in the same way we now regulate tobacco and alcohol.
“Social media companies are now responsible for much of the content we view, how we view it and the way in which it is fed to us through algorithms. Yet it shouldn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of social media companies. Those platforms, governments, schools and parents all need to collaborate on how to tackle social media addiction and safeguard those who are most vulnerable.”
Adele Bannister, Online Safety Expert, Smoothwall
Users have a responsibility
“The challenge with [social media], is there’s no regulatory body kicking you off Facebook or Instagram after X amount of time per day. Nor is someone limiting your ability to repeatedly virtually stalk your ex’s profiles. All of which can be self-destructive if left unchecked.
“Bottomline: You need to control your engagement with the platforms, not fall victim to their clever, deliberate attempts to suck you in repeatedly, putting you into a constant state of virtual FOMO.
“[Social media] must be approached like a drug: seductive, fun, powerful, and dangerous. Use them responsibly.”
Anna Akbari, PhD Sociologist (in partnership with Greenlight Digital)
Impossible to completely regulate
“I don’t believe social media apps should be regulated for addictive features. This would be too much government involvement in everyday life, in something that people have full control over in how much time they spend on the apps themselves. There are so many ways to make an app addictive that it would be impossible to completely regulate anyway.”
Stacy Caprio, Founder of Accelerated Growth Marketing
Social media creates ‘digital tattoos’
“Unfortunately we’re seeing it more and more – people are showing clear signs of addiction to social media and as a society we’re having to learn fast how to manage it, because of the immediate and long lasting impact. Last year we discovered more than three-quarters of Brits (79%) feel anxious or extremely anxious if they’re ever without their phones, with the issue being most pronounced among 18-25 year olds.
“Mobile and social media have revolutionised the way we live, with instant access to friends and family at the tap of a finger. However too often we see it have a profound effect on people’s lives in the wrong way.
“We mainly see overuse of social media causing issues because of the spontaneous and addictive way they use it. Anything shared on social media becomes a ‘digital tattoo’ – once its inked, it is permanent and can be very difficult to remove. It is incredibly important that before you hit ‘post’ you ask yourself if you are comfortable with the entire world having access to that information. If not, then it really is that simple – don’t do it.”
Allen Scott, Consumer EMEA Director, McAfee
People need to resist social media addiction
“I don’t think it should be regulated, but I think we should all stop putting up with it.
“We have a power of choice, plus there are tons of productivity apps designed specifically to block or limit addictive features that you can install on your phone for free.
“I’m kind of anti-regulation about these types of things anyway because the people who design these laws are often very out of touch with how people use and engage in the digital sphere. Also, these companies are pretty sly because anytime you regulate something like this, they’ll be on to the next thing. No push notifications? Well, be prepared to see twice as many ads on your favourite platforms now because engagement rates have dropped off so much.”
Whitney Meers, Concrete Blonde Consulting
Individuals need to understand the impact of social media
“Social media addiction is similar to sex addiction, food addiction, and gambling addiction. The apps would limit behaviours that are maladaptive, or destructive to the individual, similar to putting a lock on ones fridge so you do not overeat. The app would be great in the beginning to curb the behaviour but at some point, the individual needs to understand and handle the actual addiction.
“If the app was coupled with therapy or coaching on how to reduce the negative thoughts/feelings and emotions around the active then yes it will work. If it is just an app, like a lock on fridge it will only work when it is on…the behaviour and its cause will continue once you open the fridge or the turn off the app.”
Cali Estes, PhD., Addiction Therapist and Life Coach, Founder of The Addictions Coach
Social media should not be regulated
“Social media should not be regulated to prevent the implementation of intentionally addictive features to start with. Social media has become a tool for TV media and video games to further their reach … all similar tactics used by social media which has only been around significantly for the last 10-15 years. Also trying to regulate social media is another way of saying to control and tax the web to me.”
Vickens Moscova, Founder and Owner Moscova Marketing