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Social Media Addiction

 Social media addiction is increasingly common among children and adolescents. Young people are susceptible to the mental health effects caused by the manipulative algorithms used by social media platforms. While social interactions are necessary for adolescent development, companies put profits ahead of safety when they fail to protect users from the risks of social media addiction. If social media has negatively impacted your child, turn to The Lanier Law Firm to learn about your legal options.

Zeke DeRose:

So there are a number of things that make social media addicting, but part of it is that the apps are gamified, right? They act as though a similar addiction to alcoholism or gambling, and it sets off a dopamine release that triggers this want for more. And what we’re seeing with social media companies, especially with targeting kids, is they realize that the longer they keep people on an app, the longer they keep you on your iPhone or your iPad, the more addictive it becomes and the more valuable you are for their advertising.

And the things that are more addictive are divisive content, sensational content, sexual content, and violence. And so it’s similar to a slot machine, when you’re pulling the lever on the slot machine, and you’re waiting for that to land, and you’re wondering what is it going to land on? And that anticipation is addicting.

And sometimes what we found, too, or what we’re finding is that delay when you’re scrolling through your feed is not because you have a slow wifi connection or bad service, but it’s intentional to create that delay, to create that anticipation.

Rachel Lanier:

Everybody likes feeling liked, and especially when you are a young person, you’re growing, you’re figuring out kind of who you are and trying to put out a certain version of yourself. And we found that a lot of these social media apps are very tricky, because for younger users, they especially are susceptible to feeling liked, and this is their affirmation and how they get a lot of their self-esteem is when somebody hearts their post or clicks a like button for them. It provides a lot of self-esteem to them.

This is also a huge form of socialization for this group of individuals, especially adolescents. It allows them to feel connected to others. But unfortunately, even though certain things in the apps seem very innocent, we have found that the makers of the apps have intentionally created this addictive system to keep you on the apps as long as possible so that you hopefully make money for them. And it’s a real shame.

Addiction to social media is on the rise. According to the Pew Research Center, 35 percent of teenagers now describe their use of social media platforms, such as Instagram and TikTok, as “almost constant.” 

Unfortunately, chronic social media use goes hand-in-hand with mental health concerns among children and teens because they’re still developing socially and neurologically. The more teens become immersed in social media, the more impact social media use has on mental health and overall well-being.

What is social media addiction?

Social media addiction is the compulsive urge to access and engage with social media platforms at the expense of attending to other areas of your life. While adults are not immune to the urges of social media use, kids and teens are more susceptible because their neurological development is still progressing, particularly executive functioning and decision-making abilities. As a result, your child may find it more difficult to walk away from social media, even if they realize it isn’t good for them.

Teenagers who are addicted to social media often report:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Eating disorders
  • Loneliness
  • The fear of missing out (FOMO)
  • Isolation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Jealousy
  • Worthlessness
  • Difficulty with personal relationships
  • Suicidal thoughts
a lady pressing her phones

Why is social media addictive?

Social media addiction is behavioral, but there are also psychological and physical responses involved. Just like with drug and alcohol use, social media use is fueled by the dopamine rush that it provides. Dopamine is a chemical produced by the brain in response to pleasurable events.

The brain’s pleasure center, the amygdala, responds positively to mentions, likes, comments, and other interactions on social media posts. When the brain is rewarded with pleasure, it drives the user to seek that reward repeatedly. 

Since your child’s brain is still developing, changes in the brain eventually cause them to begin craving interactions and reactions from others. Your child may crave increasing amounts of social media to experience the same amount of pleasure. The reaction social media addiction produces follows a pattern similar to that of drug addiction.

Zeke DeRose:

So there are a number of examples of the negative effects and consequences on young people from social media. One in our case is a seemingly popular, successful football player who on the outside you’d assume had everything going for him and was successful and liked. And when we go back a year into his social media life, you see that he’s being fed perpetually information about suicide, about harming himself, about depression. And he just went down this rabbit hole on this path that led ultimately to suicide. Even though in the real world, not on social media, he had everything going that you and I or any of us would be thinking was just a great life.

We’ve also seen, especially with girls, issues with body dysmorphia, and self-doubt, and depression. And we’re seeing rates of, we’ve got friends, and this is just friends of our family. We’ve also seen, our family has seen friends of ours whose daughter was also just popular at school. An athlete seemingly had everything going for her and by being on social media, she started to have body dysmorphia issues, questions about was she skinny enough? Was she fit enough? Was she popular enough? And ultimately, the family had to intervene and put her in a hospital for eating disorders. And luckily, thankfully she’s on the other side of it, but one thing that was definitely removed was the use of social media.

How do algorithms encourage social media addiction?

The companies hosting these sites have designed their products to foster addictive behavior. Social media platforms personalize a user’s experience by targeting ads and content based on past browsing preferences. Algorithms send similar types of content to the user’s feed to keep them engaged. Companies like Meta, Inc., which owns Facebook and Instagram, rely on this response to keep users on their sites as much as possible so they can generate revenue and make a profit. The downside is that these algorithms expose children and teenagers to the same harmful content over and over again.

For example, when an adolescent girl clicks on an ad or content that promotes weight loss, an algorithm sends more content related to weight loss to her feed. This continual feedback loop makes it difficult to escape from the constant barrage of harmful content promoting exploitable subjects, such as anorexia, drug use, suicide, and pornography.

Perhaps not coincidentally, rates of bullying and teenage suicide have increased in the age of social media. In fact, between 2007 and 2015, the rate of suicide among teenage boys increased by 31 percent, according to The CDC.

Learn more about Meta Platform lawsuits, including the company’s liability in exposing children, teens and young adults to harmful content, as well as compensation for which you may be entitled. 

How Can Social Media Companies Make Their Apps Safer For Children?

Rachel Lanier:

There are several ways that social media companies could change what they’re doing to make their app safer, especially for younger users like children. The first is age verification, and making sure that the people using the app are actually in the intended age group. It is so easy for an eight-year-old, a nine-year old, to get on a social media app and lie about their age and be able to see a bunch of stuff that they shouldn’t be seeing. Their brains are particularly susceptible to harmful content, and that really needs to be changed.

The second way that social media companies could address some of this is to change their algorithm approach. The goal for the social media companies is to keep users on the app and keep them addicted to what they’re watching no matter what it is. There’s a lot of harmful content on there, there’s a lot of harmful information, and the algorithms, the way that the product itself is created, is pushing harmful videos towards children and it’s really a shame. Content about eating disorders, somebody may just be looking up some nutritional information or looking for recipes, if they’re a 15-year-old, and all of a sudden they’re put down this rabbit hole of eating disorder encouragement and how to starve your body, and that’s just really damaging, especially to minors, but to young adults as well.

And the third thing that the social media companies could do is they could actually involve the parents a lot more in a lot of privacy concerns. There are so many ways for youths to get on the app and parents to try their best to monitor it, but the apps are set up where it’s really difficult for parents to be able to see what their children are actually seeing. So to make that a little bit better monitored would be a huge help, and unfortunately the social media companies are remiss to do that.

Are Social Media Companies Liable for the Content on Their Apps?

Zeke DeRose:

Social media companies are potentially liable for their bad acts in creating and perpetuating social media addiction because they’re knowing participants. We’ve got information that shows that they realize that the content that they’re feeding or the information that they’re feeding on their apps is dangerous and harmful to minors, and yet they’re misleading parents, they’re misleading society about the ill effects of it. We look at this a little bit as we’ve seen in the opioid epidemic, is that the social media epidemic is being furthered and perpetuated by social media companies, and they’re not taking any steps or any real helpful steps to mitigate the damages.

Rachel Lanier:

Companies have admitted and have documentation that they create algorithms that are targeting children and that are uniquely tailored to push videos toward children that will keep them on the apps longer. And it can lead children especially down a very damaging rabbit hole of pushing content and videos that are really dangerous to them. The companies are doing it on purpose, and that simply enough, is why eventually, they’re going to be found liable for this behavior.

What are the signs that your child is addicted to social media?

To best protect your child, watch out for some warning signs indicating social media addiction. Does your child need to be on their phone constantly? Do they become inappropriately upset when they can’t check their phone or social media accounts?

If this sounds familiar, you may be dealing with social media addiction. Some of the signs include:

  • An increase in planning and thinking about using social media
  • Mood changes based on social media access
  • A need for more and more social media time
  • Difficulty cutting back on social media, even when they try
  • Social anxiety
  • Withdrawal or isolation from others
  • Avoidance of activities they once enjoyed
  • Poor body image or self-esteem
  • Signs of an eating disorder
  • Depression   
  • The use of social media to escape problems
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

What are the effects of social media addiction?

Data from the Center for Public Education found that social media use is related to negative mental health outcomes in adolescents, including:

  1. Feelings of depression and isolation. Social media content tends to only portray the “highlight reel” of others’ lives instead of the reality. There is a heavy focus on material goods and a particular standard of lifestyle. Teenagers may experience intense pressure to live exciting and flawlessly portrayed lives and feel let down if their own life doesn’t seem to compare to what they see online. A study out of Indiana University found that people with social media accounts believed that others were happier and more successful than they were after spending time looking at social media.
  2. Stunted social skills. Kids and teens are still developing social skills during this time in their lives. Social media creates added pressure to share and keep up with others’ posts. Users may devote so much of their time to posting and replying on social media that they have little time to devote to activities they once enjoyed. Some teenagers develop social anxiety disorder, causing them to withdraw from interactions with the world outside of social media. The younger a person is when habitual social media use begins, the more likely they are to experience problems with social interactions, such as only having online friendships.
  3. Cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is more prevalent than ever, thanks to social media platforms. Online name-calling, rumors, harassment, and sharing explicit photos without another’s permission have become common parts of the teenage experience. Social media’s anonymity and lack of consequences has emboldened bullies and led to young people attempting to end or take their own lives
  4. Eating disorders. There is a correlation between adolescent girls’ time on social media and negative body image. Content on Instagram is often edited and filtered to project idealistic images of the female body. Instagram’s own internal research found that 32 percent of teenage girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, looking at Instagram made them feel worse.
  5. Suicidal thoughts. Social media overuse is especially dangerous for children and adolescents who use it to escape from existing feelings of stress, loneliness, and sadness. They often begin to disengage from in-person relationships entirely and may refuse to attend school or spend time with others. This escape from reality can lead to thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

What Types of Social Media Claims Is The Lanier Law Firm Accepting?

Rachel Lanier:

The Lanier Law Firm is taking social media addiction cases where sadly, our clients have either suffered from an eating disorder or suffered from suicidal ideation, and unfortunately, in some cases suicide due to the addictive nature of the apps and due to some of the videos that they’re seeing through the apps.

Zeke DeRose:

We’re also representing states and school districts and communities in social media addiction cases. We currently represent the state of Arkansas, and we’re interested in representing other states that might be interested.

Why should you contact The Lanier Law Firm?

Addiction resulting from social media use is not accidental. Internal communication at social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram revealed that platform designers purposefully used algorithms to reel in young users and keep them on the sites as long as possible. Social media companies could change their products to be less addictive and safer, but they have resisted doing so. Parents of children and teens harmed by social media addiction are filing lawsuits to hold social media companies accountable. 

If your child has been affected by social media addiction, contact The Lanier Law Firm. We genuinely care about you and your child. We offer our clients the support and guidance they need to take the next steps toward justice, and we have a winning record of success, including:

  • Over $20 billion (in life-changing financial awards for our clients
  • Some of the highest verdicts and settlements in Texas and across the country
  • National recognition for Trial Lawyer of the Year by National Trial Lawyers, Best Law Firm by U.S. News, Elite Trial Lawyers Award by the National Law Journal, and nine attorneys on the Texas Super Lawyers list in 2022

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