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.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty