There are now documented cases of social media addiction.  It’s a real thing.

Sean_Parker_2011According to Facebook’s first President, it’s no coincidence.  Sean Parker started up Napster and later served as Facebook’s President.  The billionaire told an audience at Axios in Philadelphia recently that social network are designed to stimulate and “hook” users.

“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’ said Parker.  “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post. That’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments.” – Sean Parker

Facebook is geared towards instant gratification.  Psychology Today gives a rather in-depth explanation, but the short version is that social media, texting, and even the internet can put you in a “Dopamine loop.”

“Want to talk to someone right away? Send a text and they respond in a few seconds. Want to look up some information? Just type your request into google. Want to see what your colleagues are up to? Go to Linked In. It’s easy to get in a dopamine induced loop.” – Psychology Today

Dopamine begins the “seeking cycle” by rewarding you for interaction or finding information.  The reward triggers more dopamine, which starts the loop over again.

Because of the inconsistency of messages – you don’t know exactly when what you want will show up – it can intensify the dopamine release.  The brain has more activity when it is anticipating a reward than actually getting one.  The “sound” from an incoming email, or text, provides an audible cue that can trigger dopamine as well.

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop,” Parker said.  “Exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

Instagram software engineer Greg Hochmuth describes as the Network effect.  The same design qualities that make an app look great and easy to use, he said, may also make it tough to put down.  The more popular it becomes, and the more people in your circle use it, the more obsessive it can be, he told the NY Times.

Social media algorithms are designed to show you the stuff you want to see the most.  All of it plays right back into the loop.

It’s not just distracting, but it’s also been deadly

After being accused of being addicted to Facebook, 24-year old Sushama Goswami killed herself.  So did a 17-year old girl in India writing “I can’t live without Facebook” in her suicide note.

14-year old Jenna Betti was hit by a train when she stumbled picking up her phone.  15-year old Deng Seshan was so addicted his parents sent him to a  cyber addictionrehabilitation center.  He died while attending the camp.

How big an addiction is it?  Nobody really knows, but TV ads are running in China touting treatment centers.  The center where Seshan died has treated 5,000 teens in the past few years.  Serarching the phrase, “my girlfriend is addicted to Facebook” shows more than 16.7 million results.

facebook addiction

Social media addicts have been shown to exhibit withdrawal symptoms when forced to give up Twitter or Facebook.

“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains”

To be fair, many of us heard the same thing about television growing up. Maybe for your generation, it was video games that was addicting.  Facebook, however, now reports 2.07 billion users.  It changes the relationship with society and each other, Parker said.

“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” – Sean Parker.