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As I scrolled through Instagram the other day, I couldn’t help but think that in recent years more and more normal people have fell victim to social media. Individuals have become intoxicated with their profiles, growing their digital footprint in a way that has gone beyond keeping up with friends disconnected by distance and has instead developed into obsessing over how picture-perfect their life may seem to a spectator.

After mulling it over I couldn’t help but wonder, what view would we have if our own children display such obsessive, self-centred behaviour in the real world? Are young children and teenagers following their parents on social media – their idols? The kick of dopamine from the “likes” is obviously impacting so many adults, the cycle of reward is addictive and unlike other addictive substances, there is no warning, no penalty and still no real education at school that recognises the behaviour as an addiction that should not be embraced by children.

Thinking back to the most powerful anti-smoking campaign by the NHS in the UK, where children were copying their parents as their idols and aspiring to be old enough to smoke like them, I wonder if parents recognise that they are facilitating mental health complexities in their children as they grow up on social media. The campaign was asking parents not to smoke in front of their children as this significantly increases the chance of a child taking up smoking when they get older. Today, it seems appropriate to raise the same standard of awareness for destructive social media behaviour.

As I researched this topic, it seems the idea of smoking and social media has already been discussed by Salesforce chief Marc Benioff, who also believes that regulation is required due to the addictive nature and harm social media can do. Furthermore, Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook, wrote a column in the Guardian, warning that the addiction and exploitation of the sites needs to be addressed by the social giants as a matter of urgency. These comments were made three years ago, nothing has changed since then.

What is it that compels so many people to take time out of their real-life to engage in this charade of daily updates about nothingness? There is a common judgement in the academic psychology community that social media is increasing anxiety in children and teenagers, the constant need for virtual affirmation is proving to be a high burden to bear. The addictive nature of social media is not a coincidence, it is designed to be so. Endless scrolling, notification to keep “users” returning to the platform and an algorithm designed to provide vast amounts of content to keep you coming back.

As marketing goes, the benefits are clear, the more people post about their lives, as pointless as it is, the better you know what makes people return to a site, making it easier to target individuals with personalised ads of products and services. Consumers also benefit, this hypertargeting results is a reduced amount of time searching for products and services before they find a fit. This benefit is undeniable, artificial intelligence is charming!

Social media is not going anywhere, any regulation will undoubtedly fall way below the required standard to protect the young and easily influenced.

It is civil society’s responsibility to discourage children from using social media, and the first step to doing so is for parents to demonstrate a healthy relationship with social media.

 

Blog By: Sam Ammar

 

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