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Two recent developments put social media in the frame for society’s ills, leading some to describe it as ‘antisocial’ networking.

Accusation 1: Social Media Are Addictive

Deborah Mackay writes on The Next Web[1] that Social Media pages reported research (August 2011) which found ‘social network check-in’ (in whatever medium it comes) has become a modern obsession, ranking social media itself with alcohol, drugs and sex an addiction.

Retrevo Gadgetology[2] discovered that 45% of people said they check social networks after getting into bed, with 19% of under 25s confessing to logging on anytime they wake in the night. 32% check immediately after they wake. Other studies, like one at the University of Maryland in 2010[3], found students deprived of all media for 24 hours showed signs associated with drug and alcohol withdrawal, craving and anxiety.

There is a view that it’s down to dopamine, a neurotransmitter, brain messenger that causes seeking-behaviour like checking, refreshing, monitoring. The internet provides instant gratification, so creates a ‘dopamine-induced loop’. Web junkies in South Korea, Japan, China, Malaysia, USA and the UK can be offered counselling; social media addiction could be even more severe.

Accusation 2: Social Media and the Riots

The August 2011 riots, looting and other criminality across London followed by other English cities, could lead to major changes in social, education, police and security policies after fierce debate. That much should be expected.

What has become clear, is that the government is looking at ways of shutting down access to social media during times of civil unrest. Facebook, Twitter and instant text messaging facilities like Blackberry Messenger played a leading part in co-ordinating looting and disruption. Such communication meant that rioters could be directed to places where police presence was not focussed.

So, alongside water cannon, spraying people with indelible dye, banning face and head coverings, it may be that police will be given powers to shut down all forms of communication in given areas and for a time.

The technical problems are breathtaking. The civil liberties dimensions are immeasurable. In wartime, governments take powers commensurate with the threat. But is this a giant step too far?

1) Deborah MacKay – The Pursuit of Happiness
2) Retrevo Gadgetology – Is Social Media a New Addiction?
3) Maryland University – Students Addicted to Social Media

Image courtesy of Retrevo