Irish MEP: Facebook makes you mad, so let’s have a law against it…

Of all the political parties in the south, Labour is one of the ones which ‘gets’ t’Internet most. But I wonder if Labour MEP Nessa Childers‘ question seeking a written answer in the European Parliament ever saw the desk of leader Eamon Gilmore? There is certainly no sign of it on her blog.

Adds: Clare Minnock seems to be the only member of the MSM (well, the Carlow Nationalist at least) to pick up the story and she treats it an appropriate level of distain… Oh no: it’s been out there for over a fortnight

So for the benefit of Slugger’s readers, here’s the whole question of her question to the European Commission in all of its unintended glory:

There has been an explosion in the usage of this online social networking tool across Europe: unfortunately many people have crossed the line from social networking to social dysfunction. This is a real health issue and I am calling upon the Commission to take action.

Visiting your Facebook page frequently actually causes what psychologists refer to as ‘intermittent reinforcement’. Notifications, messages and invitations reward you with an unpredictable high, much like gambling. That anticipation can get dangerously addictive. Many people access their Facebook page once or twice a week; however, for others it has turned into a compulsion — and it is a compulsion to dissociate yourself from your real world and go and live in the Facebook world.

Moderate usage is not a problem at all for most people, however some people do not seem to realise that it is not real life.

With the passing into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU now has increased powers to legislate when there is a threat to public health in Europe. Will the Commission submit proposals to Parliament to address this growing threat to the mental health of European citizens?

Now lay aside the question of whether it is even possible to frame a regulation to touch the problem of ‘internet addiction’ (I cannot recall any similar laws seeking to circumscribe the use of Radio or TV before it), but in this question she’s ascribing quasi medical value to obscure terms from behaviourist theory like ‘intermittent reinforcement’.

There are, of course legitimate and important questions to be asked about how the Internet may be rewiring our brains and affecting the way we think. And there is the ongoing challenge of how we acquire new and sane ways of doing social commerce in its broadest sense, in this new online space.

But Ms Childers’ appeal directly to law and the rather contested (for those of you who missed it) powers of the European Commission, rather than to the public square, betrays a deep and profound misunderstanding of ‘Facebook world’, its effects and most importantly its limitations.

, , , , , , , ,

  • Even if there was strong evidence of a mental health issue, it would still leave the question of why it should be addressed via European legislation rather than leaving individual countries to make their own decisions (particularly wise on an issue which there is plenty of variation between countries, as there is with patterns of internet usage).

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Ive never heard of Ms Childers but it sounds like a great idea.
    Facebook and Bobo or whatever its called has caused a situation where people are no longer able to friend people in a “normal” way but merely “add” friends on the basis of their perceived similarities. Many of the friendships I have made are with people who are completely the opposite of me.
    Young people posting “pics” of themselves wasted outside the Bot or whatever and boasting about it and of course the sheer awfulness of text speak….and of course the re-entry of racism, bullying, sexism and homophobia into mainstream culture having been driven outside it in the 1980s …all detrimental to our civilisation.

  • Mack

    Potentially authoritarian madness. What exactly is she proposing?

  • Michael

    Facebook is in many ways an MMO for people who wouldn’t know what an MMO is.
    Alot of ‘facebook people’ I know do exhibit the same behavior as hardcore MMO gamers, but at least MMO players get a break when away from the desktop PC.
    I saw a middle aged lady playing farmville on a HTC phone last week on the train, not exactly south korean teenager behaviour, but a memorable moment I felt.

    In little ways social networking combined with newer mobile devices remind put me in mind of the ‘gargoyles’ from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash book of 20 years ago.

  • Fathomline

    We have a really great social networking site down our way and I can confirm that it has certain addictive qualities, but we still call it a pub

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I had to look up MMO in Wikipedia…..where it has nine possible usages but Multi Player online game seems the most likely.
    That kinda war game produces a sanitised version of warfare and produces anti social behaviour.
    Middle aged ladies playing it is hardly a recommendation. She prolly reads “Harry Potter”.
    Still unsure what HTC is. …but Ive put the question “what is it?” as my Facebook status.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Also produces anti-social behaviour LOL

  • Mick Fealty

    And back to the subject in hand…

    Fathomline has it about right. People are social creatures, and we like being with other people who share our passions. The net makes it easier to do that. We just need to find ways to manage that in the longer term.

    In our house that means FB is great for keeping in touch with old friends and family. I really cannot believe Nessa was allowed get this one past Labour HQ… Whatever her best intentions the question is actually just a little bit nuts …

    Although surely not even the European Commission is detached enough from the real world to mistake this as a serious inquiry…

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    No its not “nuts”.
    Civilised societies say nobody can buy ciggies or drink at 16…..and must be 18 to vote.
    Yet Minors are allowed on FB. Its wrong.

  • Mick Fealty

    Idiot. [As in don’t be a…]

  • Mack

    Minors internet access can be restricted by their parents.

    Making it illegal for a minor to even access a social networking site seems extreme, but if not – how would you enforce it?

    How would you propose Facebook differentiate between an adult and a 15 year old?

  • Dixon of Dock Green

    Well you’re a real bundle of fun. I know, let’s ban all adult entertainment just in case kids whose parents are too stupid or too lazy to supervise them properly get access to it.

    “Whaaaat abaht the children?”

  • Alias

    It sounds like her own mental health is an issue since her proposal is completely half-assed and uttery daft. It’s true that the internet (or its subfunctions such as social networking) can be addictive but that is a potential problem that is the responsibility of individual users to monitor and control, and not the function of a supranational nanny-state.

    I can remember the same gripes about AOL’s virtual community in the 90s, and nothing came of that either. Young people are impressionable idiots, anyway, and the best way to avoid being concerned about them becoming virtual clones of each other is to avoid browsing the e-spaces where that dismal activity is practiced. It’s not like they can live that way outside of that artificial environment, so they will the same desire to blend in and be accepted by their peers will apply in the real world – when they venture into it via employment, etc.

  • Rory Carr

    I fear that Ms Childers is fighting a lost cause. I have long been a stern opponent of that vicious social networking device – the postal service through which system I regulalrly receive threatening letters from all and sundry demanding that I hand over a portion of my small income for “services” they claim to have rendered. Often these missives are printed in bold red ink, clearly an attempt to intimidate.

    Once upon a time, when I was but a wee lad, this postal service was quite non-threatening and indeed beneficial, bringing as it did half-crown postal orders and sweet notes of affection from my various aunties and the occasional $10 bill from Amerikay. But all that has stopped and it’s nothing but nastiness now. Which just goes to show that all this social networking business starts off very well but eventually all the nasties take over.

    Some smart old duffer once opined that all the troubles of the world could be avoided if a man simply stayed indoors in his own home, but not since the bloody penny post! Remember all that nastiness that occured as a result of Kitty O’Shea’s letters and what about oul Zinoviev?

    It’s high time they put a stop to all this social networking by mail, I tell you. Although there is one bright spot in all this – Adam Crozier. If he has his way there’ll soon be no postal service at all.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Isnt that playing the man? LOL

  • Alias

    Yes – and it was edited to modify its meaning. Yellow card for Mick.

  • Danny

    I don’t try and make judgements on the practices of the Ancient Egyptians, as I don’t have a single clue about them, so you shouldn’t be passing judgement on “Bobo” as you call it.

  • Cynic

    Ah the Brownshirts live!!

  • It got a good airing on too

    where the irony was not lost on most posters.

  • JaneJeffers

    A new dominant ideology wants us to believe that “social networks” equate to real human contact and communities. This is false.
    The more immersive technology gets, the more it isolates. The new generations of young users are socially-dysfunctional and increasingly lonely

    Most of us (I guess 30 years+) have had our consciousnesses formed before technology became so pervasive and distracting, so there is a tendancey for us to be blind to the huge problems that are being created for our youth.

    I do volunteer work with young teens and their ability to think, concentrate, empathize is being decimated by pervasive social media – which is creating a new consciousness that has some very big negatives and dangers attached.

    The computer and smart phones ISOLATE people with their computers, while giving a neutered and watered down of social experience. (some people believe the h

    Next week: why pornography beats real sex PLUS how to ditch your human friends to spend more face-time with your computer.

    At least in the old days folk watched TV together.

  • Mack

    At least in the old days folk watched TV together.

    In the old days people bemoaned children watching too much tv and not spending enough time reading!

    I’m sure in the even older days they bemoaned children reading and not spending enough time talking to each other (as they ground the wheat to make the bread for 6 hours before bedtime, in the dark, exposed to the howling wind and lashing rain) etc.

  • JaneJeffers


    Okay you picked up on a minor point at the end of the article. Full marks.

    What our great-grandparents thought does not shed much light on what may or may not be serious problems now.

  • Danny

    Jane, you freely admit (“there is a tendancey for us to be blind to the huge problems that are being created for our youth”) to not understanding what is happening. The ‘problems’ are entirely manufactured just because this is something new. Just because you don’t get it doesn’t mean it’s immediately evil. It’s like churches v science all over again.

    Speaking as one of the group are apparantly isolated, lonely, inept, troubled, unsocial, doomed, what have you… it’s all nonsense. Of course we all have a Facebook account, of course we have mobile phones, it doesn’t of course mean that’s all we have. Facebook is nothing more than a tool for keeping in touch with friends when they aren’t physically there. Why would I drive all around the country a few times a day just to talk to people I know? Would you? No, you don’t – you use a phone. We use the intertubes.

    There are people who will spend their day “befriending” 2000 people over the internet, but these are the same people you will find in a bar screaming ‘Look at me! Aren’t I awesome’.

    It’s the same problems, just a different generation. Get over yourselves.

  • JaneJeffers

    as far as i understand your argument it can be summed “I and my friends are fine, so there is no problem”. Is this a correct reading?

    You state
    “The ‘problems’ are entirely manufactured just because this is something new.”
    Where is your evidence for this?
    I am speaking from first hand experience, and what I see disturbs me.

    Many of the young (particularly males 11-14 years old, in Scandinavia) i work with are in a permanent state of what i would call a sloppily distracted – a state I would compare to being mildly stoned or having had a few beers.

    Like I said it is my experience and you need to do better than assert that it’s “manufactured nonsense”.

  • Mack

    JaneJeffers –

    Okay you picked up on a minor point at the end of the article. Full marks.

    I was attempting to illustrate that these complaints of a distracted youth are nothing new. You say that technology isolates people and gives a watered down social experience – I was pointing out that kids today have way more social contact of one form or another than our great-grandparents did (think before electricity, cars etc) .

    Have you any evidence that using computers reduces cognitive ability in humans? I’ve never come across any.