Rising Calls To Fight Social Media Addiction

Addiction isn’t a word that scientists, medical professionals, and politicians throw around casually. And yet New York has become the first major city to designate social media as an environmental toxin or “public health hazard.”

“Companies like TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook are fueling a mental health crisis by designing their platforms with addictive and dangerous features,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams during his State of the City address, calling out a series of social media companies and claiming they are “fueling a mental health crisis,” especially for young people. “We cannot stand by and let Big Tech monetize our children’s privacy and jeopardize their mental health.”

And Adams isn’t alone.

“Social media algorithms turn children into addicts and allow misinformation to run rampant,” says Dr. David Sweet, co-founder of The Clarity Foundation. “This manipulated reality delivered to young people puts the fact-based foundations of our modern world at risk. We can’t allow big tech companies to distract us from the addictive algorithms by trying to get us to focus on straw men like content moderation.”

In conversations with Gen Z leaders, medical experts, and University leaders, the consensus of social media’s addictive dangers is growing, as in this conversation:

“Everything is designed for short-term gratification, said Kyle Anderson, a high school junior. “It’s kind of like hits of dopamine, keeping your attention span on them, and really in the end, just kind of maximizing profits,” said Anderson.

Uri Hasson, professor of neurobiology at Princeton, goes further: “Amplification is like a drug dealer. This basically pushes people to the extreme because now you are only fed what you want, but it’s amplified and amplified,” he said. The Hasson Lab studies the brain’s responses to natural, real-life events, “so we know that once you start to be addicted, you need higher and higher dose to get the same effect.”

At “all these companies, it’s designed so it’s very hard to get off the app. They keep your attention. Companies only change when their money is at risk,” said Anderson.

“With TikTok, with Instagram, there was always like a point where you could stop,” said Hannah Trauberman, a 23-year-old graduate of Colgate who now works as a social media manager at an addiction practice in New York. “I know from personal experience my friends feel the same way: It’s really hard to put your phone down when you’re scrolling. It’s really a mixed bag, and I’ve been trying to find my balance.”

On Jan. 31, five Big Tech CEOs will find themselves facing bipartisan questioning from the Senate Judiciary Committee: Jason Citron, CEO of Discord; Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta; Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap; Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok; and Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X. The CEOs of Meta and TikTok voluntarily agreed to testify at the hearing. Discord, Snap, and X all required a subpoena to be compelled to attend.

“Since the beginning of this Congress, our committee has rallied around a key bipartisan issue: protecting children from the dangers of the online world. It’s at the top of every parent’s mind, and Big Tech’s failure to police itself at the expense of our kids cannot go unanswered,” said Senator Dick Durbin, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee.

You can watch the Senate hearing live here.

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