Social media is becoming ‘crack for kids’

By Oliver Smith 8 August 2017
Image: Getty/romrodinka.

It has the same effect as cocaine.

Technology companies should stop using their algorithms to hook youngsters.

That’s the message from Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, who told The Times:

“I want them [social media companies] to stop using the algorithms and the targeting that get kids addicted — all those things that we know can be very stressful and very destructive.”

She singled out Snapchat’s Snapstreak feature which encourages users to chat every day for days at a time, in return for badges and rewards.

Now, it’s not the first time we’ve heard technology described as addictive ‘crack for kids’ – something we’ve strongly objected to in the past.

And, following Longfield’s comments, one has to ask, are tech giants really that different to toy makers and TV producers who play on our childrens’ base instincts with bright colours and catchy slogans?

Some experts argue they really are.

Read more: Stop saying smartphones are ‘crack for kids’

Anne Longfield OBE, the Children’s Commissioner for England.

The social addiction

“Gaining affirmation, reassurance and prestige can be addictive,” Sharon Pursey, head of strategic alliances at SafeToNet, a service that safeguards children online, told The Memo.

“If children get hooked on gaining prestige and social standing this way, the addiction created by the social networks can become toxic and harmful.”

It’s been well-documented that social cues, like Facebook ‘likes’, trigger our brains in the same ways that addictive drugs like cocaine do.

Part of the problem, especially for children, is that these addictive social loops are being introduced to them at far too early an age.

“Social media sites do have an age restriction for a reason,” Gemma Johnson, founder of and National Unplugging Day, told The Memo.

“But it is well-known that young children are using their platforms and getting sucked deeper and deeper into their devices which can leave children confused, disturbed and out of balance.”

And Johnson also argues that, unlike TV, parents have less oversight on how their kids are using social media.

“I find it rather disgusting that, knowing how addictive these apps and platforms can be, children are being targeted in the full knowledge that unlike TV, parents are effectively ‘locked out’ of the child’s experience, leaving the child completely exposed.”

“More needs to be done to force the tech social media giants to be ethical when dealing with our future generations mental and physical health,” adds Johnson.

Read more: When should kids join social media?

So, are social networks and tech giants really different from the toy makers and TV producers of the past?

The experts we asked agreed that they are, and said that it’s really up to parents to keep an eye on the now potentially addictive social services their kids might be using.