What can be done to fight social media addiction?

2023-12-10 10:23:17Lifestyle SHKRUAR NGA REDAKSIA VOX

More and more people spend more and more time with mobile phones, and focusing on them is taking more and more time. The first legal proceedings against Facebook & Co. have started in the USA.

Ah, I can't wait to read this post! Not so interesting? Then below, surely the other content is even more interesting. Anyone who hangs out on X (Twitter), Facebook or TikTok knows these impulses well and knows how a blink-of-an-eye impulse turns into an hour or two. Social media is ubiquitous. On a smartphone or computer, when we are at work or in our free time, we chat, post or consume different content provided by others. This also has the other side of the coin. Because the number of people who consume social media excessively is constantly increasing. In Germany alone, over six percent of children and young people are addicted to the media. A study published in the spring of 2023, conducted by the social security company, DAK, says that this problem has affected over 600 thousand boys and girls. In more than two million adults, media consumption is "problematic". They spend three to four hours every day in front of a screen, much more than before the Corona pandemic period.

With benefit or harm?

So are social networks the devil himself? "Their role is at least ambivalent," says Tobias Dienlin, professor of interactive communication at the University of Vienna. "There is a lot of useless content, but there is also content that we benefit from. And one can use social media in different ways: One can use things for consumption, but one can also use them in a way active to communicate with others and maintain relationships.” As long as these are done in moderation, everything is fine. When excessive use begins, then for some consumers it becomes a problem. Until now, there has been no medical definition of social media addiction." But since there is no diagnosis , doesn't mean the phenomenon doesn't exist,” says Dienlin. When the use of media becomes so excessive that one fails to do other important tasks, when one wants to use less social media but is unable to do so, when social relationships are neglected, then we can say that we are dealing with addiction, says the media researcher.

Attractive algorithms

Much of social media works on the principle of quick lure and reward. Likes and Emojis take care of the positive confirmation, and if a content is not liked then immediately go to the next content "The introduction of scrolling without setting a limit has made one never able to finish with reading, because new content is always presented," explains Tobias Dienlin. "This is of course extremely addictive, because a person needs to become active himself to disconnect from the screen. When you read a book and reach the end of it, then the book is over. Even TV shows have an end, but online content has no end.”

The algorithm of many social media takes extra care that we as consumers are served content more and more tailored to our interests, which makes it difficult to stop consumption at the right time.

Particularly vulnerable to media addiction are people who have problems in other areas. "Those who have weak impulse control, those who have a hard time organizing their daily lives, have an even harder time with social media," Dienlin says. And for lonely, withdrawn people, or people with depression excessive media consumption represents an opportunity to get away from reality: "Because through them we have the opportunity to adjust the mood and put an end to the unpleasant state", explains the researcher from Vienna of the media. "When I don't know what to do, when I'm overwhelmed or when I'm embarrassed, when my conscience kills me about something, then I pick up my cell phone and consume social media and that's how I get out. Right there."

On the other hand, excessive media consumption can cause worsening of existing mental illnesses such as depression or eating disorders, when, for example, appropriate content is actively sought and through the learned algorithm of social media  

USA: Joint indictment against information technology concerns 

In the US, meanwhile, hundreds of families have filed a lawsuit against the four largest information technology companies: They accuse the parent company of Facebook, Meta, the Chinese producer of Tik-Tok, ByteDance, the company responsible for YouTube, Alphabet und Snap, and the manufacturer of Messenger, Snapchat, that they have not only ignored the creation of their children's social media addiction, but have even actively encouraged it. Many American school districts have joined the charge. 

The plaintiffs accuse the concerns, among others, that they have not implemented safe ways for age verification and that the mechanisms they use for parental control are insufficient. In addition, it makes it unnecessarily difficult for consumers to delete the accounts they have opened on social media.

For a long time it was unclear whether such a court process could be opened at all. Information technology companies have shot back the accusations as unsubstantiated. But in mid-November, a US federal judge ruled the charge admissible to start a trial.

But how much sense does it make to take such a step? Media researcher Dienlin is ambivalent: "Such a process creates attention-grabbing, and in my opinion this is not bad. However, it is as always a compromise. If those who provide the service make the service even more attractive, which is the principle and the aim of any profitable enterprise, they automatically promote the factor of creating dependence. The consumer cannot be given all the responsibility for this. Therefore, both must be done: The optimization of the technique must be done, and at the same time the consumers must be informed and helped."

Anti-addiction strategies

The most important thing is to constantly see with a critical eye the use of media for yourself and for children. "To talk about this problem with the whole family, to exercise joint non-use of the media, without immediately saying "social media is all rubbish". It is important to limit the time spent with the media, and to leave for a certain time from the mobile phone and physically. And it's important to re-learn alternatives other than using a smartphone." 

Media researcher Dienlin mentions movements, sports, hobbies, friends or volunteering here. "It's not normal to think that it's about social media when someone's not feeling well. Often smartphone addiction is an expression of another problem, an expression that indicates other problems may arise." Realizing this is often the first step to breaking smartphone addiction.DW