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Facebook And Instagram Draw Comparisons To Alcohol And Tobacco

A piece published in The Atlantic has compared social media in general, and Instagram specifically, to alcohol, with author Derek Thompson writing that, “Like booze, social media seems to offer an intoxicating cocktail of dopamine, disorientation, and, for some, dependency.” At the same time, The Wall Street Journal has reported that some lawmakers are beginning to view Facebook — the company that owns Instagram — as similar to Big Tobacco.

“Facebook seems to be taking a page from the textbook of Big Tobacco,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, told The Journal, accusing the company of, “targeting teens with potentially dangerous products while masking the science in public.”

New findings reported by The Journal support this claim. The outlet shared the results of Facebook’s internal research, which discovered that almost 1 in 3 teen girls reports that Instagram exacerbates negative feelings over body image; it also found that the development of eating disorders can be linked to the use of Instagram. Additionally, Facebook’s research found that, “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” going on to say that, “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

Teenage users of social media may find they are unable to stop using the very same platforms that are making them feel bad; adults may find themselves developing addictions to social media as well, and an academic paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that, “self-control problems cause 31 percent of social media use.”

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Tech Executives To Appear Before Congress

Senator Blumenthal is far from the only elected official calling for more scrutiny when it comes to the way Big Tech is manipulating its users; a bipartisan group of lawmakers have highlighted the importance of investigating the matter. Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican and ranking member of the subcommittee Blumenthal chairs, said on September 17 that there would be a congressional hearing “in two weeks,” and that officials from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, and Twitter would appear.

The hearing may involve discussion of the development of an Instagram alternative designed for children under the age of 13, a project the company has been working on for some time as a high-priority item. Those who would draw comparisons between social media and Big Tobacco would likely see a child-targeted version of Instagram as akin to a candy-flavored cigarette.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has appeared before Congress before; he was accused of lying to lawmakers when he denied his company collected users’ audio as a way to more effectively tailor advertisements. Later reports did find that Facebook had paid external contractors to transcribe user audio; Facebook has said it is no longer engaged in the practice.

Experts Suggest Digital Fasts And Mindfulness

Typically, patients in recovery are encouraged to abstain from substance use and to develop mindfulness. Those who suspect they may have a social media addiction could benefit from doing the same.

Dr. Anna Lembke, chief of Stanford University’s dual diagnosis addiction clinic, has said it may be beneficial to take periodic breaks from smartphones; Dr. Lembke has christened the devices “modern-day hypodermic [needles].”

Twenty-four-hour digital fasts, episodes wherein one completely abstains from the use of a smartphone, may help the brain grow more accustomed to receiving dopamine in a healthy way. While personal or professional obligations may preclude turning off one’s phone for an entire day, it may be possible to restrict the use of a particular app like Instagram and still be technologically-equipped enough to meet the demands of today’s fast-paced world.

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Turning one’s awareness to the present moment, possibly through meditation, may also help with social media addiction; it’s been demonstrated effective in treating other behavioral addictions.

Finally, losing the rosy expectations about life that social media often works to instill may also help in building a more healthy relationship with technology. According to Dr. Lembke, “Life is a slog… I think if we could admit that and take comfort in knowing we’re not alone in the day-to-day struggle, paradoxically, we would be happier.”

Whether or not life is a slog, it’s certainly not something you have to suffer through alone. If you’re struggling with an addiction to alcohol, an addiction to social media, or another disorder entirely, help is available. Contact a treatment provider now for help in taking the next step toward long-term recovery.

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If you or a loved one is ready to overcome an alcohol addiction, reach out today. Treatment providers can connect you with programs that provide the tools to help you get and stay sober.