Aurthors Ari-Pekka Liukkonen & Inka Hopsu, original in Finnish: On korkea aika puuttua digialustojen koukuttavuuteen – Vihreät (

Is there cause for concern about the use of social media and mobile devices by children and young people? The effects of social media have been studied extensively from many perspectives, and both positive and negative effects have been observed. Young people’s depression and anxiety symptoms have increased significantly over the past 20 years, while engagement with society has weakened. Jonathan Haidt’s series of studies shows that this development began around the same time that social media appeared on mobile phones. These developments have not been explained by economic or most other social variables.

At the same time, there is extensive peer-reviewed research evidence that moderate social media use increases happiness among young people. An average person who uses social media is happier than someone who uses it a lot, and someone who uses a lot is happier than one who doesn’t use it at all. Of course, this comparison has been made in a society in which a large number of other young people use social media. Like it or not, social media has become a central form of community among young people. We must therefore consider how we can reduce the adverse effects without taking away what works.

What is particularly disturbing about the transition to social media by youth culture is that its platforms are thoroughly commercial advertising machines operating on the logic of surveillance capitalism. A typical platform company measures its success through the time spent looking at advertisements and the places that lead to them. Thus, platform companies have incentives to exploit their central position in youth culture in a way that exacerbates the negative side effects of social media, especially social media addiction.

Among the side effects of social media, efforts must be made to combat the increase in harmful content, the reality bubbles they creates, the loss of privacy of young people and addiction to the use of the platform, which interferes with adequate sleep, self-regulation and concentration, attachment to school and everyday life outside social media, for example. The challenges of using social media do not only concern children and young people.

Fortunately, the EU has already developed some valid tools for this, which must be put to effective use.

For example, the Digital Services Act prohibits the display of profiling (i.e. data mining) advertisements  to minors and the use of “dark patterns” (designs that intend to trick users into doing something against their interests). This requires significant and detailed efforts, in particular from large platforms, to highlight and monitor content. These measures are a good start, but they must be applied decisively and uniformly throughout the EU.

In a free democracy, we should be able to use social media exactly as much as we want without pressures from anywhere. At the moment, we use social media as much as TikTok, Meta and other digital giants want us to use it, that is,  as much as possible and, in our opinion, often too much. What are the economic and public health impacts of the fact that, at the population level, we spend an increasing share of our waking hours scrolling on social media platforms?

Last summer, Dutch Green MEP Kim van Sparrentak launched an initiative to make digital platforms less addictive. The European Parliament adopted the initiative before Christmas by a large majority. According to the initiative, addictive design is a consumer protection issue that needs to be addressed through legislation. MEPs hope to have this included in the programme of the new Commission to be elected after the European elections, and there is a good chance of doing so. The initiative urgently calls on the Commission to assess and, where necessary, fill regulatory gaps related to misleading practices (so-called undeclared practices) and addictive features of digital services. If the incoming Commission tackles the issue, the European Parliament would be the first Parliament to succeed in calling for measures to curb the harmful addictive design of apps and smartphones.

AI-based manipulation of users and hooking on products and services, especially for children and young people, should be prohibited.

The EU has broad reach and can create legislation that influences even the largest platforms. High-quality legislation, when applied well, supports families, schools and society at large. These must all fulfil their responsibilities and obligations to keep the disadvantages of platforms to a minimum.

Ari-Pekka Liukkonen
Inka Hopsu