“We would be horrified if a drug company was allowed to amass a fortune by selling a product linked with any form of addiction, including dopamine addiction, without at least having to announce the same on its packaging. 

“We'd be even more disturbed if the same drug provider offered a remedy that said, ‘Take more of our drug and you'll be fine.’

“We should be no less disturbed if some prominent social media platforms refuse to acknowledge the potential side effects of their products. Perhaps it is time such groups were treated as drug companies and required to carry health warnings.”

This is according to social futurist, author and global innovation speaker Mal Fletcher.

In an editorial published today, Fletcher describes a “sizeable body of research” into the dopamine-inducing impact of social media engagement. Though some of this research has focused on Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, the findings have been shown to be relevant to other social networking services.

The research shows that continued - though not necessarily heavy - social media activity releases small doses of dopamine, a chemical associated with alertness and feelings of pleasure, into the user's brain.

While small shots of this chemical may do little damage, continued small doses over time may produce the cumulative effect of larger amounts, leading to a problematic dependency and even addiction.

Mal Fletcher lectures civic, political and industry leaders worldwide on the potential positive and negative effects of our growing engagement with digital and automation technologies.

He believes that, faced with mounting international research revealing harmful side-effects, social media companies sometimes behave as tobacco companies once did, when they were confronted with claims about addiction and cancer.

“Social media groups often shrug off criticism with claims that the evidence is inconclusive.

“This week, Facebook at least acknowleged the possibility of a problem for some users, but it then suggested that the answer might be to engage with friends even more, via its platform.”

In many ways, social media platforms offer a very helpful, informative and entertaining service, adds Fletcher. However, they should be required to acknowledge and mitigate the dangers. 

“Perhaps,” he concludes, “social media platforms should feature a caution loosely based on one used by gambling companies: ‘BEFORE the fun stops, stop!’”

Full editorial: Should Social Media Carry Health Warnings?

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