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The Social Dilemma – Addiction to Social Media

The Social Dilemma is a documentary-drama which was released on Netflix this year, and has prompted discussion around addiction to social media (Barnet & Bossio 2020). The ‘docudrama’ explores the negative impacts social media and other companies, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Instagram, have upon society, primarily through fostering addiction in order to make financial gain. With social media use experiencing exponential growth, interest in the issue of social media addiction has increased (Hawi & Samaha 2016).

Social media addiction is defined as a type of behavioural addiction which involves being excessively concerned about social media. In ‘The Social Dilemma’, the character Isla is a prime example of someone struggling with social media addiction. This excessive concern over social media demonstrated by Isla is caused by the uncontrollable desire to use social media, and often results in one dedicating so much time to social media that other elements of their life are negatively impacted (Hilliard 2020). Social media can be addictive because it activates the same parts of the brain that are activated by using an addictive substance.

Like other addictions, social media addiction can be identified by:

  • Mood modification – when social media is used it causes positive mood changes (much like when a drug addict consumes narcotics)
  • Salience – being overly preoccupied with social media (much like when an alcohol addict is constantly concerned with consuming alcohol)
  • Tolerance – time spent on social media increases over time (much like the amount of alcohol or drugs and addicted person may consume increases over time)
  • Withdrawal symptoms – unpleasant symptoms are experienced if social media is not used 
  • Conflict – relationship problems arise due to excessive usage of social media 
  • Relapse – quickly relapsing to excessive use of social media after abstaining from usage (Hilliard 2020)

Research has found that addiction to social media is negatively associated with self-esteem. Furthermore, a lack of self-esteem is associated with a lack of satisfaction with life, meaning that social media addiction can decrease life satisfaction (Hawi & Samaha 2016). Social media addiction has also been found to be associated with an increased likelihood of experiencing depression (Robinson et al., 2019). 

In response to The Social Dilemma docu-drama, Facebook published a response where they claimed that their platforms are not designed to be addictive, but rather to ‘create value’ (Facebook Company 2020). Actions taken by Facebook, including news feed algorithm changes, work with mental health experts, and time management tools, do suggest that Facebook has taken efforts to work against social media addiction (Facebook Company 2020). However, it is still important to consider that Facebook is funded by ads, meaning increased exposure to ads through increased use of their platforms increases their revenue.

If you feel that you or someone you know may be addicted to social media, or at risk of becoming addicted to social media, the following tips from Reach Out may be helpful (“5 ways to tame your social media use” 2020):

  1. Move your social media apps away from the home screen on your phone to reduce your exposure to the apps
  2. Set a regular time for checking your social media apps and don’t be logged into the apps outside of these times
  3. Turn off notifications for your social media apps
  4. Set up limits of social media app use – on some phones this can be done in settings, or you can download apps which set limits on phone use and notifications
  5. Commit to spending a certain amount of time on a screen-free hobby each week, and turn your phone off during this time
  6. Don’t use your phone when having meals
  7. Leave your phone outside your bedroom
  8. Delete your social media apps if you are willing to do so, are try deleting one or two of your social media apps if you have multiple

Barnet, B., & Bossio, D. (2020). Netflix’s The Social Dilemma highlights the problem with social media, but what’s the solution?. Retrieved from,so%20far%20gone%20largely%20unregulated.

Facebook Company. (2020). What ‘The Social Dilemma’ Gets Wrong. Retrieved from

Five ways to tame your social media use. (2020). Retrieved from

Hawi, N. S., & Samaha, M. (2017). The Relations Among Social Media Addiction, Self-Esteem, and Life Satisfaction in University Students. Social Science Computer Review, 35(5), 576–586.

Hilliard, J. (2020). Social Media Addiction. Retrieved from

Robinson, A., Bonnette A., Howard, K., Ceballos, N., Dailey, S., Lu, Y., & Grimes, T. (2019). Social comparisons, social media addiction, and social interaction: An examination of specific social media behaviours related to major depressive disorder in millennial population. Journal of Applied Biobehavioural Research, 21(1). doi: 10.1111/jabr.12158