Critical Conversations

Internet and Social Media Addiction: Lessons from China

Dissecting the damages mobile phones and social media addiction have caused young people in society and the entire world at large, can lead to serious apprehension.

As at the time Lai Mohammed described social media as the next endemic that will hit Nigeria and the rest of the world, many thought the Minister of Information and Culture was only trying to defend the social media regulatory bill that he had soft spot for. Commentators failed to see that like the slimy serpent with deadly poison, social media addiction was silently ravaging nations, upturning government, and equally impacting the larger society in more negative ways than ever.

The power of social media is often underrated. In most cases, it is totally overlooked or taken for granted. Most people alongside many nations of the world do not realize that it is responsible for the decadence in values and the counter-productivity of the youth. Fortunately for China, she was quick to unearth this evil and promptly checked it with a ban on mobile phones in classrooms.

The Ministry of Education in China ruled that children are to be banned from the use of phones in schools. According to authorities, the rule is designed to protect young people’s eyesight, improve their concentration and prevent social media addiction.

Schools are being encouraged to find ways for parents to communicate with their wards through other means during school period.

One of the country’s newspapers, China Daily, reported that there has been heated debate among parents over the practicability of the ruling. According to the government-affiliated China Internet Network Information Centre, the vast majority of children and teenagers in China access the internet via their own smartphones – 74% of under-18s.

The authorities are however concerned about how internet use is affecting the optical health of the nation’s youth which is closely related to the mental faculty. For China, this is a bid to improve the productive and mental capacity of their youth and cut off any inhibition from addiction to mobile phones and social media. 

But it goes beyond the classrooms. Mobile phone and social media addiction has taken a humongous form. Like the virus,  it could be so small  but carries huge damaging consequences with rippling effect.

The “appetite” for mobile phones, internet and social media, all of which are interdependently related, is no doubt a daylight phenomenon. It is an open secret. Almost everyone has caught the flu. This is captured in the eager propensity among young people to reveal every detail of their everyday life on the media space. This is seen in the numerous postings on social platforms as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram.

We are all familiar with the “bullets” from Donald Trump on Twitter, that hit the heart of his followers, propelling them to storm the US Capitol in what is now considered the biggest assault on world democracy.

Perhaps a second look at Instagram is here in Nigeria where DJ Switch propagated fictional narratives of a massacre at Lekki Toll gate that almost capsized the ship of the nation on the waters of anarchy and dissolution.

Currently, Snapchat is infected with the craze of women challenging themselves to an obscene Silhouette in order to gain traction.

Many Nigerian youths are in fact suffering from what is now called Internet Addiction Disorder. Such disorders can be diagnosed when an individual engages in online activities at the cost of fulfilling daily responsibilities or pursuing other interests, and without regard for the negative consequences. Mobile phones and the internet has fostered various addictions including addiction to pornography, online gambling, sexting, auction sites, social networking sites, and  just endless surfing of the Web.

In Nigeria, the addiction is really far reaching. Of these addictions, the prevalent one amongst male Nigerian youth is online betting. Online betting has spread like wildfire and like a virus it has infected many young men and some women youths. The age limit of 18 currently holds no water as activities of most of the sports betting are largely conducted online where the rush for cash supersedes the demand for verification.

There is a statistic that 70% of Nigerian youths are involved in sports betting. This denotes that a large number of Nigerian youths are becoming gamblers. This is a serious indicator that the lives and future of Nigerian youths are at stake. The addiction is ravaging Nigerian youths as it stalls their productive and mental capacity. It is equally affecting their academic life massively as the few that made it have become dangerous motivating agents to others.

The bulk of Nigerian youths enchanted by the surreal life on the media space have now taken to cyber-crime. They are led astray by the facade of easy opulence on social media.

Some have gone into the depression on account of this. A recent report shows that depression among the youth in Nigeria is closely related to activities on social media and the façade that brew from it.

Mobile phones and social media addiction is the diabetes eating into the joints of her victim. Like sugar it lures with its sweet taste only to kill. Cases of suicides owing to cyber-bully have now become commonplace globally.

Internet/social media addiction is slowly killing our moral and value system, as well as inhibiting the productive capacity of the youth as they spend much of their day pining away on chats. One finds a gathering where participants are expected to socialize and network but what one sees is over 70 percent of the audience engrossed in a phone. Addiction to social media is disconnecting the world more than it is connecting it.

World democracies are wailing in the anguish of its jab as more countries experience daily threat and a facsimile of the US Capitol Invasion. The present crisis in Myanmar following the coup must have been motivated by that string of events in the US as one sees another attempt to stop the steal which started from social media. How many more coups will the world experience before action is taken to curb this rising menace of internet/social media addiction?

Chinese authorities must have foreseen all of these when they blocked Facebook—along with Twitter and Google services—in July 2009 following riots in Xinjiang. Facebook and other foreign internet companies are blocked in China, and the efforts of Mark Zuckerberg-led Company to court China have hit a hard rock.

In China, the Chinese government controls internet content and restricts, deletes, or bans content it deems not in the interest of the state. Internet users are prevented from viewing or positing socially or politically sensitive content.

Termed the “Great Firewall”, a number of methods are deployed to control online expression, including website blocking and keyword filtering, censoring social media, and arresting content posters who broach sensitive or political issues.

A host of government agencies wield  strong authority over the internet consumption in China, such as the Central Propaganda Department and the Ministry of Public Security.

In 2014, the Chinese government established the Cyberspace Administration of China as the main body for internet censorship in China.

The Great Firewall prevents users from accessing foreign news sites such as the BBC, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among others. Foreign web services that are blocked include Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Yahoo, Slack and YouTube.

Meanwhile, homegrown services such as TikTok, WeChat, Sina Weibo and Tencent QQ flourish massively under the watchful eye of government censors.

The Chinese government is doing everything to control the necessary evil of mobile phones and social media. Today, China stands as one of the leading political and cultural forces in the world. Experts and pundits have also predicted China to overtake US as world’s biggest economy by 2028.

Read Also: Social Media Regulation: Freedom with Boundaries

These are lessons Nigeria can take from China. Talks about breach of freedom of expression regarding regulation of social media should not be used to excuse the negative impact social media addiction is having on society and the world at large.

Freedom with boundaries is the backdrop of any civil society otherwise there would be no need for the law: after all, where there is no law there is no sin. Mobile phones and social media addiction is affecting the youth in negative ways as much as it is affecting the world. Nigeria should take necessary action to arrest the situation and help her youthful population. The earlier this is realized and some elements of control put in place, the better for all.

By Andy Charles

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