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02-14 Social media companies ‘deliberately engineer addiction’, says billionaire investor George Soros

Social media companies ‘deliberately engineer addiction’, says billionaire investor George Soros

Hungarian-American billionaire investor, philanthropist and political activist George Soros has sounded a warning against “giant IT platform companies” and internet monopolies. Delivering his remarks at the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos, Switzerland in January 2018, Soros singled out Google and Facebook, alleging that they had become “obstacles to innovation” and had caused a variety of problems which were coming to light now. He accused social media companies of “exploiting the social environment” to earn profits.

Soros explained that to achieve their own commercial purposes, social media companies were deceiving their users by manipulating their attention and directing it towards their platforms. “They deliberately engineer addiction to the services they provide. This can be very harmful, particularly for adolescents,” he said. Soros warned that human attention was being harmed, and perhaps even suffering irreversible damage, in the digital age. Besides inducing addiction and distraction, social media companies were influencing people to “give up their autonomy.”

According to Soros, the exploitative nature of social media companies was “nefarious” since they had the ability of influencing people’s thinking and behavioral processes without them even being aware of it. Facebook and Google effectively account for more than half of all revenue from internet advertising. Expanding their networks and increasing their share of users’ attention enable them to maintain their dominance.

Internet monopolies unwilling to protect society from consequences of their actions

Soros strongly recommended regulatory oversight to change the behavior of these “ever more powerful monopolies.” He added that the monopolistic companies were unwilling and disinclined to protect society from the consequences of their actions. “That turns them into a menace and it falls to the regulatory authorities to protect the society against them,” said Soros. Tim Berners-Lee, British computer scientist and inventor of the World Wide Web, had also been critical of the misinformation and false propaganda perpetuated by large digital platforms.

Soros was not the only high-profile businessman to speak out about internet giants at Davos. Marc R. Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, said that social networks like Facebook needed to be regulated like the cigarette industry due to their addictive and harmful effects. Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook, wanted the company to address the harm it had caused “through addiction and exploitation by bad actors.” Sean Parker, Facebook’s founding president, has accused the platform of exploiting human vulnerability. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he recently said.

Problematic computer usage is receiving widespread attention globally. Previous research showed that internet addiction disorder (IAD) caused psychological distress, neurological complications and social problems. Young people are particularly vulnerable, with a greater amount of time spent online leading to poor academic performance as well as health issues like loss of sleep. Internet addiction is not restricted to college or university campuses; middle school and high school students are also falling prey to it.

Teen internet addiction can lead to other complications

A previous study by the Pew Research Center found that teens aged between 13 and 17 years were frequent internet users, with 92 percent of them going online daily, and 24 percent using the internet “almost constantly.” Most of this high usage was attributed to mobile devices, particularly smartphones. Teens accessing the internet via mobile devices reported more frequent internet use than teens who did not use mobile devices to go online.

Past research showed that nearly 4 percent high school students in the United States could be suffering from problematic internet use. After adjusting for sociodemographic factors, internet addiction was found to be significantly associated with substance use, depression and aggressive behavior, with largely similar patterns of associations between genders. It was also found that although high school boys had heavier internet use, they had a likelihood of lower self-awareness regarding the associated problems.

Teen mental health, especially in the age of smartphones, constant internet connectivity and excessive social media usage, is a real and pressing concern. Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego offers holistic treatment for teen internet addiction and its associated outcomes. Call our 24/7 helpline or chat online with one of our representatives for more information about our teen internet addiction treatment programs.

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