Social media monitoring apps shine spotlight on internet addiction

Report by Jusin Huntsdale, ABC Illawarra

Social media monitoring apps targeting programs like Facebook and Instagram are revealing alarming habitual behaviour and extreme levels of smart phone use.

You may not realise it, but you are probably reaching for your smart phone with high frequency.

It just takes a free app to give you the cold, hard statistics.

"If you ask people to report on how often they use their smart phones, they may under report or they may be missing information and consider themselves average users," University of Wollongong technology expert Professor Katina Michael said.

"We see others on smart phones at train stations, bus stops and at work and we think it's become a normalised activity."

Professor Michael is an ambassador for a free app called Anti Social, which not only displays time spent on social media, but also the number of times a user unlocks their home screen and compares the data to other demographics.

She said people are usually shocked at the results.

"It's aimed at everyone because no-one is immune to smart phone addiction or any form of internet addiction," she said.

The demographic most at risk

Professor Michael said she was most concerned about adolescents' social media use.

Not only are they exposed to the risk of addiction, there is also the fear of missing out on seeing things that are posted to social media.

Technology is also a compulsory part of their education as tablets and computers are used to access school resources.

"We are seeing a huge wave of technology into our education systems, and it's allegedly supposed to be bettering our literacy levels and our maths and science skills, but what we see is the increase of technology actually decreases students' ability to read and speak to others clearly," she said.

"We are seeing younger children exposed to [electronic] tablets without any nuanced control of what media literacy is.

"Most psychologists — including one of the famous ones — Kimberly Young [who specialises in internet addiction] says there should be zero screen time between the ages of birth and three."

Professor Michael said statistics showed many young people were spending a cumulative 3.5 hours per day on social media, and it is not surprising that many are either not completing homework or are struggling with assessments.

"I think more and more adolescents are considering that the pressures of social media are so vast that it's best to get off," she said.

"[Young people] need to be connected and feel they can't be disconnected, and a quarter of our teens are constantly connected and send about 150 texts per day."

PHOTO: Social media monitoring apps are revealing interesting statistics about people's social media use. (ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

 

How to address the problem of social media addiction

Apps such as Anti Social work on the assumption that people are aware of social media addiction and want to do something about it.

However a large proportion of the population who have a social media addiction are likely to not even know it.

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"What we need to do is get the discussion going between parents and children, between teachers and children, and employers and employees," Professor Michael said.

"A quarter of the workforce uses the internet for non-related work activities at work, we're losing in productivity and having young people mesmerised by this gadgetry.

"It's about teaching our young people independence and responsible use of the technology."

She said young people needed to balance their technology use with some form of physical or real-life social activity.

Part-time work can also be helpful in reducing the amount of time available to spend on social media.

"[This way] there's less appeal to be there because they're not bored," Professor Michael said.

"We need to replace some of this addiction behaviour with real physical activity in the real world."

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