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  • Writer's pictureAlessia Balducci

If You Can’t Stop Scrolling on Social Media, the EU Might Lend You a Hand

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

The EU might force tech companies to change app designs, including social media, as they’re proven to be addictive to users. The Groninger talked to the Dutch Europarliamentarian who drafted this proposal, now being debated in the European Parliament.

In June this year Kim Van Sparrentak, member of the European Parliament (MEP) and the Dutch Green Left party, called on the Commission to present legislation against addictive apps. The proposal is now being discussed within the IMCO Committee, a division of the European Parliament responsible for supervision and inspection of EU single market, customs and consumer protection laws.

Social media folder on a smartphone ©Alessia Balducci

“What we have right now is pretty much what you see in gambling,” Van Sparrentak to The Groninger. “You pull to refresh a page and you get a dopamine shot - something fun, something sad, something scary - which is a bit like a fruit slot machine in a casino.”

Then, there’s the endless scrolling. “As humans we like to finish tasks,” she said, “but with the endless scroll you never get the satisfaction of being done, so you just keep going.”

To fight this feature she suggested a notification after 30 minutes of activity, something that will tell your brain: “Hey, you’ve been here for a long time, maybe you should do something else now.”

The average daily time spent online is in fact about 7 hours in the 16-34 years old range. A 2019 study has found that a heavy use of media doubles the likelihood of having mental health issues, including risk factors for suicide. Other side effects are low self-esteem, lack of sleep, anxiety, eating disorders and some attention deficit symptoms.

“I’m optimistic about this law proposal,” said Van Sparrentak, “and it'd be an important step. Some people have a serious addiction to certain apps, which also cause them panic attacks if they don’t have their phone around them or if their phone’s battery is low.”

Media also allows us to keep in contact with our loved ones and get access to the news, but neither of these things need an addictive design to be done.

Students looking at their phones, University of Groningen ©Alessia Balducci

“When I’m tired or anxious I just go on TikTok and start scrolling to get distracted. Sometimes I spend even two hours there without realizing it,” said Daria, 19. “It's kinda scary because we disappear in an unreal world and turn our minds off, while we could instead talk to other people or be productive.”

Aruna, 24, shares a similar experience. “I mostly use Instagram and I find myself scrolling there every single night, at least for two hours. I feel like at some point I find what I think I need but then I keep watching stuff because it’s so easy. Usually, this just makes me more tired than I was before.”

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