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The Panic over 'Social Media Addiction' Threatens Free Speech

April 23, 2019 in Economics

By Jeffrey A. Singer

Jeffrey A. Singer

It has been more than 10 years since China’s health ministry
officially recognized “Internet Addiction Disorder” as a disease.
And although the evidence for such a designation remains far from
solid, the consequences of that designation have been startlingly
clear.

The Chinese government has, among other things, restricted new internet cafes from opening,
requiring them to be closed during certain times of the day, and
limiting time adolescents may spend at internet cafes. Meanwhile, a
network of boot camps, many of which are government run, have
sprung up across the country in which many of the
government-estimated 23 million young “internet addicts” are
enrolled to receive treatment for what has been dubbed “electronic heroin.” These facilities employ
military-style discipline and often brutal corporal punishment. In
2017, BBC News reported the death of an 18-year-old registered in one of those
camps, sparking Chinese newspaper editorials calling for tighter
regulation of these centers.

China’s experience is a warning about the perils of medicalizing
heavy internet use. Yet other countries are following its lead by
recognizing social media or internet addiction as a behavioral
disorder, often in conjunction with public funding for counseling
and addiction treatment centers. Japan’s Ministry of Health, for
example, pays for “internet fasting camps” in which
young addicts receive help in a tech-free environment. And in 2011,
despite objections from parents that it infringes on their
autonomy, South Korea placed a curfew on teen internet gaming, blocking gaming
sites after midnight for people ages 16 and younger.

Journalists,
commentators, and lawmakers must be more accurate and precise with
their terminology. They must resist the temptation to confer
legitimacy on an unproven “addiction,” and they should be called
out when they do so.

Fear of the internet’s addictive potential isn’t confined to
Asian countries. The year China made its designation official, an
editorial by a leading U.S. psychiatrist appearedin the American Journal of
Psychiatry
applauding the decision. Since then, an internet
addiction rehab industry has sprung up in the States. And a growing
number of media reports in the West have stoked concerns about a looming crisis of
social media addiction, sometimes loosely coined “internet
addiction.”

Lawmakers in Washington, meanwhile, have begun to express
similar concerns. Last September, during a Senate Select Committee
on Intelligence hearing on “Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of
Social Media,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Sen. Mark Warner
(D-Va.), and others raised the subject of “social media addiction.”
They were worried that media users, compelled by their addiction to
face repeated exposure to propaganda and misinformation, might be
increasingly <a target=_blank href="https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2018/06/07/global-addiction-social-media-ruining-democracy/Ta9316Ma628HQaJ5PyM8uI/story.html" …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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