Forty-two attorneys general have sued Meta because Facebook and Instagram are addictive and supposedly harmful to children. I didn’t realize social media is a public health threat. Is this something that state attorneys general should pursue like they did for opioids and tobacco? This from The New York Times:
A group of 41 states and the District of Columbia filed suit on Tuesday against Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, contending that the company knowingly used features on its platforms to cause children to use them compulsively, even as the company said that its social media sites were safe for young people.
“Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage and ultimately ensnare youth and teens,” the states said in their lawsuit filed in federal court. “Its motive is profit.”
Was Meta supposed to have timers on Facebook to shut it off after 10 minutes? Was Facebook supposed to make their social media less enjoyable so kids and adults would spend less time on it? Perhaps Meta should have designed Facebook more like MySpace, which lost out to Facebook years ago.
Experts who study internet use say that the magnetic allure of social media arises from the way the content plays to our neurological impulses and wiring, such that consumers find it hard to turn away from the incoming stream of information.
What about television? Should the FCC have nipped television in the bud back in 1950 because people in the 2020s would waste too much time watching it? I mean, television is everywhere. Back in 1950 few families could afford a TV and those who owed one probably only had one. Televisions where in the living room where parents could supervise their use. Nowadays your phone is a television, your iPad or tablet computer is a television. Every computer is a television and actual televisions have dropped in price such that they’re as cheap as $30 for a 13” TV. Back in 1950 a similar sized Philco black & white TV was about $1900 to $2500 when adjusted for inflation. There are literally thousands of potential television shows to watch on streaming at any given time.
Back to social media. There really are people who believe social media is addictive, not just pleasant to use.
David Greenfield, a psychologist and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction in West Hartford, Conn., said the devices lure users with some powerful tactics. One is “intermittent reinforcement,” which creates the idea that a user could get a reward at any time. But when the reward comes is unpredictable. “Just like a slot machine,” he said. As with a slot machine, users are beckoned with lights and sounds but, even more powerful, information and reward tailored to a user’s interests and tastes.
Adults are susceptible, he noted, but young people are particularly at risk, because the brain regions that are involved in resisting temptation and reward are not nearly as developed in children and teenagers as in adults. “They’re all about impulse and not a lot about the control of that impulse,” Dr. Greenfield said of young consumers.
Moreover, he said, the adolescent brain is especially attuned to social connections, and “social media is all a perfect opportunity to connect with other people.”
Can the Internet really be addictive like cocaine or Heroin? Scientists are divided on Internet addiction:
…the scientific community typically defined addiction in relation to substances, such as drugs, and not behaviors, such as gambling or internet use. That has gradually changed. In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the official reference for mental health conditions, introduced the idea of internet gaming addiction but said that more study was warranted before the condition could be formally declared.
A subsequent study explored broadening the definition to “internet addiction.” The author suggested further exploring diagnostic criteria and the language, noting, for instance, that terms like “problematic use” and even the word “internet” were open to broad interpretation, given the many forms the information and its delivery can take.
How much social media is too much? Experts quoted in the story admit there are clearly times when Internet use interferes with school, sleep and other important activities. So do many other activities like video games. Besides, I didn’t realize kids even still used Facebook. I read somewhere kids today think Facebook is something old people use. Maybe Meta has deeper pockets than other hobbies that waste kids’ time.