Social networks are neither harmless nor neutral. They are designed to attract, maintain and increase the attention and engagement of their users. They are particularly risky for children and young people, as social media addiction is a real phenomenon.

Social media use, like gambling, smoking, alcohol or drugs, releases dopamine, a chemical that produces feelings of pleasure. The business model of social networks targets young people to keep them connected to their platforms for as long as possible, generating significant advertising revenue.

The brain’s response to stimuli varies from person to person. The main differentiating variables are psychological (self-esteem, anxiety, depression), social (social pressure, family structure, school rules), genetic (greater propensity to produce dopamine) and age (the younger the age, the greater the risk).

In the United States, 41 states and the District of Columbia have sued Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram. The states’ attorneys general say in their lawsuit that the CEO and his team stepped up Meta’s efforts to attract young users and misled the public about the risks of using social networks and the potential for addiction.

In Chile we are far from this situation, as we have no legislation on the matter. An attempt was made when five senators: Girardi, Goic, Chahuán, Coloma and De Urresti introduced a bill on 1 September 2021 to regulate digital platforms. According to the processing of Bulletin N°14.561-19, the bill has been sleeping in the Committee for Future Challenges, Science, Technology and Innovation since April 2022.

In this bill, Art. 8, Protection of vulnerable persons, is noteworthy. “Digital platform providers have the obligation to protect the image and integrity of persons who are considered vulnerable by law, whether because of their age, condition or other similar circumstances. To this end, they must take measures to warn of the sensitive content to which such platforms expose them if there is evidence of its addictive nature or if, for any other reason, its content is essentially aimed at adults. In the latter case, they should have appropriate age verification mechanisms in place.

Social networks make a significant contribution to society, but the positive aspects of social networks cannot make us ignore the risks and negative consequences they can have, especially for the most vulnerable and unprotected groups. Experience teaches us that business models are immoral, and this also applies to companies that own social networks.

For the sake of the common good, there is an urgent need to revive the initiative to legislate on social networks in order to reap their benefits and protect ourselves from their negative effects, because addiction to social networks is a real phenomenon that is affecting more and more people, especially children and young people.