Could Social Media Addiction Be Worse For You Than Cigarettes?

By David Konow 11/30/18

Social media addiction is being compared to cigarettes but can it really do that much damage?

man smoking a cigarette while on his phone dealing with social media addiction

Social media can certainly be addicting, and there are some who feel it can be harmful to your mental health if you spend too much time on it. But can it truly be more harmful than cigarettes?

As Forbes reports, Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, made this analogy at the World Economic Forum earlier this year, and he also proclaimed that social media companies like Facebook should be regulated “exactly the same way you regulated the cigarette industry.”

In an interview with CNBC, Benioff also proclaimed that “Facebook is the new cigarettes. You know, it’s addictive. It’s not good for you. There’s people trying to get you to use it that even you don’t understand what’s going on. The government needs to step in. The government needs to really regulate what’s happening.”

As Benioff concluded, “Technology has addictive qualities that we have to address… product designers are working to make those products more addictive and we need to rein that back.”

But is he overreacting?

There have indeed been studies that claim that being addicted to social media is a real phenomenon and, like video games, social media is designed to be addictive. When you’re running a business, you want people to spend as much time on your site as possible to drive sales.

Forbes listed a number of factors that explain why people can be vulnerable to social media addiction. One of them is that people are “social creatures” who want to reach out and belong, and we crave validation. Social media can reward that validation with “likes,” “follows” or a smiley face emoji.

Another factor that can drive social media addiction in people is FOMO, or the “fear of missing out.” According to one study, 67% of people polled who used social media were terrified that they would be missing out on something if they didn’t check in with social media.

As Sean Parker, former president of Facebook, told the Guardian, businesses use these plaforms as “a social-validation feedback loop… exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

This is actually not the first time that social media has been called “the new cigarettes.” Oren Frank, the founder and CEO of Talkspace, made the same prediction in the Huffington Post several years ago, warning that “social media platforms are not only full aware of their impact, but actually leverage it to make sure this addiction is maintained and increased, not hesitating to use psychological levers and biases to guarantee that we will keep coming back.”

At the same time, comparisons were recently made to social media and cocaine, though scientists from the Oxford Internet Institute felt this was an irresponsible comparison to make.

The director of the institute, Andrew Przybylski, told Business Insider, “Dopamine research itself shows that things like video games and technologies, they’re in the same realm as food and sex and all of these everyday behaviors, whereas things like cocaine, really you’re talking about 10, 15 times higher levels of free-flowing dopamine in the brain.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.