An Irish MEP working for the Labour party has called for “intervention and regulation by the EU” for websites like Facebook, which she believes are addictive and hazardous to mental health.
The minister, Nessa Childers, who is also a psychotherapist, said that since the Lisbon Treaty has been ratified, “the EU now has increased powers to legislate when there is a threat to public health in Europe”.
She said that millions of Europeans are at risk of becoming addicted to these kinds of websites, particularly Facebook, which has over 400,000 Irish users alone. If Irish people voting for the Lisbon Treaty last summer had known that European intervention in their online lives was part of the deal, however, a larger volume may have voted “no”.
Childers said that visiting Facebook causes “intermittent reinforcement”, which means that connecting with virtual friends, receiving notices and messages, etc. gives users an unpredictable high, similar to gambling and makes them feel the need to “expand to fill an increasingly empty internal world creating a vicious circle.” In other words, people are living virtual lives instead of real ones, using social networking to escape the pains and struggles of everyday existence.
She said that people in real life “have bad breath and smelly feet”, while our online personas do not. Childers is trying to make the assertion that we are creating a perfect self on the net as a way to avoid dealing with our faults in real life. It’s a form of role-playing, as it were, except we are role-playing as ourselves. God only knows what Childers thinks of MMOs, but Facebook is clearly a dangerous medium in her eyes.
Of course, our virtual personas are not entirely immune from the cruelties of real life, as cyber bullying has become an increasing trend over recent years. There was a recent case where Facebook was the medium through which some bullies posted some derogatory comments about a teenage girl in Canada, resulting in a court ruling that the ISP must reveal the identity of the bullies. Clearly logging into Facebook was not the kind of escapism for that teenager that Childers is referring to.
Childers said that as a psychotherapist she has seen an increase in addiction to internet pornography, which has ruined lives, and that action is needed at international level from the EU to properly take on the “disturbing trend of addiction to sites such as Facebook which are responsible for all sorts of problematic behaviour”.
Childers failed to mention exactly what kind of regulations are needed, but we imagine she wants some sort of limit on how often users can log into Facebook, much like the limits to MMO game time that have been put in place in some Asian countries after a few shut-ins died from neglecting real life needs, such as eating food. This will, of course, mean that ISPs will be monitoring usage, which opens up a whole new can of worms in terms of privacy.
Childers uses Facebook to keep in touch with constituents, who may or may not be Facebook addicts.