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Nov. 30, 2020 – The September debut of “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix sounded this alarm for millions of viewers.

The documentary centers on Tristan Harris, the former Google engineer who has been leading the assault on social media as cofounder of the Center for Humane Technology, 

Harris started talking about smartphones as “slot machines” years ago: “Every time I check my phone, I”m playing the slot machine to see, ‘What did I get?’ This is one way to highjack people’s minds, to form a habit.” 

At a Nov. 17 hearing to grill Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham borrowed Harris’ “slot machine” language and promised further inquiries.

The catch: For psychologists, “Facebook addiction” is a subset of “internet addiction.”

“Internet addiction” follows previous alarms over video game addiction, TV addiction, comic book addiction and so on. 

“Social media is a drug” is the latest version of “TV is a drug,” which was an update of “rock music is a drug,” and so on.

Every new media technology or format, particularly those that gain popularity among younger users, has sparked a wave of fear and concern among adults that kids’ attention is being hijacked and their minds are being warped. 

Media historians call these reactions “moral panics,” and many view them as ways of deflecting attention from deeper social ills.



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