WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Addiction to social media has led to significant issues within users, both physical and psychological. A peer-reviewed study from the Journal of Psychological Research on Cyberspace suggests that there is a direct correlation between symptoms of depression (discontent, mood swings, anxiety, irritability, etc.) and social media dependence. Evidence also shows that, as in most addictions, individuals with a social media dependency may experience symptoms of withdrawal: anxiousness, fatigue, excessive sweating, a depressed mood, etc. Moreover, individuals with social media addiction are more likely to have lower academic performances than their peers.
Investigations on social media business tactics highlights the connection between social media companies and teen social media dependency. Essentially, businesses use tactics to target consumers emotions in order to benefit their companies. In regard to social media, companies earn profit through running advertisements on their platforms. The amount of advertisements as company can run is dependent on the amount of time individual users spend on that certain program, for example, this number increases when users spend more time on the app. As a result, social media companies focus on increasing their amount of users and the time those users spend on their platform. Notably, Aza Raskin, a technology engineer, explains that “when you put that much pressure on that one number, you’re going to start trying to invent new ways of getting people to stay hooked”. For this reason, multiple features of social media platforms such as vibrant displays and targeted ads have been created to entice certain users, specifically today’s teenagers. Raskin himself designed the “infinite scroll” feature which creates a habitual movement in users and ultimately keeps them on the platform for longer. The “like system”, as seen in popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, also targets vulnerable teens. The co-creator of the Facebook Like button explained that this feature creates an “addiction to the feedback” in the platform’s users, causing many to view this as a source of personal validation. Sean Parker, president of Facebook in 2017, publicly explained that even though inventors understood the platform was “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” they “did it anyway” (qtd. in Andersson). Twitter and Instagram additionally admitted to using the supply and demand of consumers’ attention in order to induce company growth, or in other words, rely on the “attention economy”. Adam Alter, the author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked explained that these companies do not have the intention of creating addictions, but rather aim to create an enticing experience. Nevertheless, the more enticing the experience, the more likely teens are to develop a dependency. These features ultimately boost social media companies’ profits at the expense of creating addiction in teens.
Netflix’s Documentary, The Social Dilemma, investigates how tech companies incorporate specific design aspects into their platforms in order to entice users. This media gives you a first hand perspective as you hear from the creators themselves.
Monitoring social media addiction through controlling social media companies is possible. Tristan Harris, a design ethicist at Google, launched the Center for Humane Technology (CHT) to create more ethical designs online after observing the long term negative effects of companies using the attention economy. According to the organization’s official website, they plan to execute this movement through both external and internal pressures, which include pushing policymakers and shareholders to create safer online environments and encouraging technologists to lobby for Humane Technology within their businesses. Additionally, destructive social media use can be managed through various technological features and personal disciplinary techniques. Apple’s “screen time” feature incorporated into IOS 12 has already aided teens struggling with social media addiction. An article from IMA Research’s 2019 Study on the Digital Lives of Children suggests that parents are already monitoring screen time as a solution for excessive social media use. The study presented that 44% of parents with children ages 10 to 18 monitor their screen time and 53% held a conversation about lowering screen time. Further incorporating these methods into adolescents daily lives can help combat this growing issue of social media addiction within their generation.