When we consider why social media applications were originally created, it helps us understand why
these empires are so addictive and how they draw in an almost cult-like following. Sean Parker, the
founding President of Facebook, boldly stated years after resignation from the company that
Facebook was not created to further connect people as we are led to believe, but instead when it
was put into action it was on the basis that the website would distract users for as long as possible to
absorb as much of their time. Therefore it is no shock that due to the huge success of the site that
millennials are more isolated and prone to anxiety and addictive predispositions than older
generations that have not grown up immersed in the current age of anti-social technology and social
All addiction stems from an abnormally large surge of dopamine to the brain. The human brain
cannot filter this and it over stimulates the mind, generating an addiction as willpower is lost.
Dopamine is a neurochemical commonly referred to as the ‘reward molecule’. It is what urges us to
achieve our wants and desires. This could be as small as getting a glass of water when you are
thirsty, to working hard for a promotion at work. The rush felt after a sweaty and productive
workout is thanks to dopamine.
Social media utilizes dopamine in order to hook users. Social positive reinforcement has been
recognized as a dopamine catalyst, and social media does this in the same way but via the internet.
Every time a person receives a like/comment online it has the same effect as being complimented in
person. Building on this, if individuals share an activity that originally caused a rush of dopamine to
their brain such as working out or going out for dinner then having people like this post then this
allows for a second shot of dopamine, making rewarding tasks even more so.
Creators of these websites and apps understand also how unscheduled rewards aid the addiction
process. This works in the exact same way that gambling does. As individuals don’t know when or
how many likes they will receive, who will message them etc. this incorporates the luck paradigm
that is exhibited in slot machines. When a person does not know the outcome of their actions it
makes it more exciting when they achieve what they desire or more than what they expected.
American psychologist BF Skinner reinforced this theory in his experiment where he found the
strongest way to teach a rat certain behavior is by rewarding it at random intervals. Humans can
evidently be seen to be subject to this same principle.
The whole premise of social media is built on a vulnerability of human nature whereby we are drawn
to dopamine releasing activities. If used in a beneficial manner, social media has the capability of
uniting people. It makes for a huge political platform where people can band together in support for
online petitions and huge public events can be promoted through pages such as Facebook.
Addressing this addiction is almost impossible, as it could be argued that the majority of millennials
today are addicted to social media as they seek approval through online means and depend on this
to feel wanted and secure in society. This is a catastrophic dilemma that may have to be accepted as the new ‘normal’ as the digital age takes over humanity.
By Cerys May