In recent days, executives of the largest social media companies appeared before the US Senate. On the occasion, Senator Lindsay Graham told them very clearly: “Mr. Zuckerberg, you and the companies before us, I know you didn’t mean to, but you have blood on your hands, you have a product that is killing people”.
This harsh statement originates from the children and young people who access social media and are exposed to bullying, sexual exploitation, and drug addiction with serious consequences on their mental and physical health, ending in some suicide cases.
There is not enough control of posts, but even worse, the companies Meta, owner of Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram, TikTok, as well as others, have developed algorithms it to make their users addicted to consuming their products.
Social networks are designed to be highly stimulating and addictive. Notifications, “likes”, comments and other interactions activate the brain’s reward system through the generation of dopamine. This sense of gratification generates a positive feedback loop, where we constantly seek more interactions and validation on social media to obtain that gratification.
Neuroscience is key to understanding this process as dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with reward and pleasure in the brain. Many experts, including employees of these companies, agree that the design and functionality of social media exploits the brain’s reward mechanisms and is very harmful to some people, especially children and young people.
The news agenda in our country is focused on crime and public safety, but there is no attention on social media addictions among minors. Nor is there any focus on how social media is a motivation for minors to commit crimes that they subsequently post on their social media profiles.
We need to pay attention to this epidemic and to do so we must raise the issue so that it is addressed in public policy in a cross-cutting and intersectoral manner between the Ministries of Science, Technology and Innovation, Health, Education and its interior. It would also be interesting to include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to seek to establish channels of cooperation with countries that are more advanced in these matters, such as the European Community, the United States of America and surely also China.
Social networks have changed the way we relate to each other. I am, personally and institutionally through Fundación Semilla, a regular user of these platforms. Like any new technology, it can be used positively, but it can also do a lot of harm. Let’s put this issue at the top of our priorities so that it’s not too late and we don’t have blood on our hands.