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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Social media addiction a concern

Social media addiction a concern

Last month, 41 US states sued Meta Platforms Inc, accusing the parent company of Facebook and Instagram of knowingly and deliberately designing addictive features that harm children and contribute to young people’s mental health problems. The attorneys general of the states said in a joint lawsuit that Meta uses misleading marketing to foster addictive behavior in kids and teens and profit off them.

Meta is no stranger to lawsuits and controversy. From the US to Europe and Asia, the tech giant has been accused of multiple consumer protection, data privacy and antitrust contraventions over the years. However, the latest lawsuit is one of the largest of its kind and could have a greater-than-expected effect on social media companies as a whole if Meta is held accountable.

Moreover, it highlights a growing concern in the US about the phenomenon of social media addiction among adolescents. It also signals that legal action must be taken to address dependency on social media, as the impact on young people’s mental health is too serious to be ignored.

According to psychiatric experts, social media addiction refers to one’s behavior being inordinately concerned about social media or driven by an uncontrollable urge to use social media. By devoting so much time to social media, this behavioral addiction has negatively affected the daily lives of many children, with some even developing physical and mental health problems, experts say.

A study published in 2017 by the scientific journal PLOS One found that 4.5 percent of adolescents in the US had a social media addiction, with low self-esteem and high levels of depression. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported in November 2021 that Facebook’s own research identified 12 percent of its users engaging in compulsive use of social media, which had affected their sleep, work, parenting or relationships.

Other studies in the US in recent years have also demonstrated that severe psychological problems — including depression, anxiety, insomnia, disruptions to education and daily life, and many other negative emotions — have resulted from excessive social media use by children. In the complaints filed by the US states against Meta, they said the company’s social media platforms “exploit psychological vulnerabilities of young users” to keep kids engaged in the networking sites for the next story, image or video, while “ignoring the next piece of social content could lead to social isolation.”

In Taiwan, a survey conducted by the Child Welfare League Foundation in late 2021 showed that 86.9 percent of adolescents reported experiencing “fear of missing out” (FOMO) from social media — far higher than the 69 percent recorded in separate surveys in the US.

FOMO refers to people who are always worried about whether they have missed any information, so they tend to spend more time scrolling social media out of a need to feel welcomed by others. Most importantly they cannot stop checking and refreshing networking sites. As the number of social media users increases, so does the number of people who experience FOMO.

Social media addiction has become a new epidemic of the century. It is hard to imagine that Taiwan would address this issue like the US by filing lawsuits against social media companies directly, therefore it requires collective efforts by individuals, parents and schools to help reduce the risks associated with the dangers of addictive behavior. While completely avoiding social media might be impossible for most people nowadays, setting time limits on social media usage and developing interests and hobbies are steps that could be taken to avoid addiction.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2023/10/06

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Taiwanese independence advocate Su Beng is pictured in an undated photograph.
Photo provided by Avanguard Publishing

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