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Home  >  Medical Research Archives  >  Issue 149  > ADDICTION BY DESIGN: Some Dimensions and Challenges of Excessive Social Media Use
Published in the Medical Research Archives
Feb 2022 Issue

ADDICTION BY DESIGN: Some Dimensions and Challenges of Excessive Social Media Use

Published on Feb 24, 2022




Social media addiction is a growing problem throughout the world. It has been characterized as a type of behavioral addiction, which can be measured using standardized criteria based on six general properties of addiction criteria: salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict and relapse. Several studies have found a prevalence of approximately 10% for social media addiction in individuals across the globe, indicating that this problem is common and widespread. Deleterious effects of this disorder include depressive symptoms, increased anxiety, and a lowered sense of personal well-being. Social media addiction also has been linked to neuroplastic changes that diminish attention and impede an individual’s ability to focus.

There many dimensions of social media that can foster addiction, including the exploitation of evolutionarily old urges to communicate and socialize, as well as intentional design of the user interface to hook users into constant use. There is little doubt that social media companies are financially incentivized to maximize user attentiveness to ads (i.e., ad views and clicks) on their platforms because user attention is the product for which they are paid. These companies maximize user attentiveness in two primary ways: first, by intentionally designing the interface to have properties intended to hold users’ attention; and second, by personalizing the content shown to users in order to make it more interesting and engaging for them. Social media addiction likely arises from the vicious cycle involving user attention leading to powerful dopamine-related reinforcement, which then stimulates more attention intended to achieve more reinforcement.

This paper provides an overview of this multifaceted problem of social media addiction, including a brief review of addictions in general, social media addiction in particular, and a discussion of the prevalence and consequences of this addiction. Also discussed is the role social media companies play in addiction by design, along with the critical need to present solutions to social media addiction. These solutions, beginning with redesign of the user interface properties to make them more humane and ethical, are possible, but will not be easy. However, we all must work toward a world in which people use technology for their own well-being rather than for the well-being of those who control the technology.

Author info

Charles Crowell, Alejandro Mujica, Michael Villano, Khutb Uddin

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