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By 25 August 2023 | Categories: news

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By Anna Collard, SVP Content Strategy & Evangelist at KnowBe4 AFRICA

Stuck to the screen. This is the world of digital and social where the psychology of addiction is applied to keep people hooked to videos, scrolling and devices.

There is money to be made from social media platforms. They are designed to exploit human psychology, triggering dopamine in our brains with every video and interaction so we stay online and hooked. The logic is simple, the longer we stay, the more advertising we consume. This can make us behave in ways that are not healthy for us and we need to find a balance.

Dopamine is the hormone that motivates us to achieve things from a survival point of view. To go and hunt, survive and thrive. We are wired to respond to it because it drives us to do things. However, dopamine is not supposed to be a pleasure hormone. When it is triggered by social media, it gives us a false sense of happiness that quickly fades away. We are programmed to want more; to do more things that make us happy. But are we really happy?

The answer is no. Dopamine is keeping people in a loop of liking, swiping, watching, and engaging. It convinces the mind that this activity brings joy. With social media and digital devices, people are all addicts as they turn there for validation, entertainment and attention. But if this is making people happy, why bother? Why not let the social media cycle go on?

Because people are, in fact, unhappy. There is a growing body of research showing how we are increasingly unhappy. People are overwhelmed with images and expectations and advertising that never let our minds relax and that keep influencing us on a subconscious level. People need a break from social and digital, they need it to become more creative and feel less trapped in the noise of modern life.

Algorithms are built to serve us content which confirms our biases and likes. The longer we stay, the more we share what we like or dislike, which feeds into these algorithms, serving us more addictive content.

Social media also poses another risk: privacy. The recent TikTok incident where the company confessed to spying on people using their accounts and behaviours is a case in point. This may have caused outrage and concern, especially across public sector institutions in the U.S., UK and Europe, but it should also make consumers question what they share publicly and how their information is protected.

Privacy regulations vary from country to country, so there are concerns about how your private information is being protected and stored in a certain region. Then there are the dangers this poses to your identity. A digital footprint can be used to scam you or steal your identity; most people do not realise how much information they give away when they are online.

The technology is not the problem but there needs to be a robust regulatory framework that protects users and the environments where social media operates. It is a complex and challenging discussion that requires people to be aware of how social media affects their well-being and behaviours while asking them to become more aware of the risks that come with putting information online. Once a digital footprint is there, it is extremely hard to erase.

Think about the parents who posted their children’s baby photos on social media when the platforms first emerged. Back then, social media was just a space where people could connect with friends and family around the world, sharing parts of their lives. Now, due to cybercrime, fraud and child exploitation, these images are suddenly putting people’s reputations and lives in danger. Social media affects a person’s employability, status and so much more.

To manage the addiction and the impact of social media on digital and mental well-being, people should limit their use, avoid sharing personal images, especially of minors, and be careful of what kind of information is shared. The likes are not worth the risk.

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