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Calls for internet addiction to recognised as a medical condition

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Pathological internet addiction that triggers deviant behaviour on social networking sites (SNS) should be recognised as a disorder needing treatment, according to Dr Mubarak Rahamathulla, from Flinders University.

Dr Rahamathulla, a senior lecturer in social work at Flinders University has also called for more research into intervention therapies.

In Australia internet addiction is currently not recognised as a clinical disorder.  

In 2008, China became the first country to declare internet addiction a clinical disorder, Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD).

Dr Rahamathulla believes that because individuals with the condition will not be clinically diagnosed, they are not offered support and treatment, which causes enormous additional psychological strain, and can lead to problematic deviant behaviours in cyberspace.

His research into general strain theory, where negative experiences in life can result in problem behaviours and deviance, finds a very high likelihood that internet addiction sufferers will vent their frustrations through problematic online behaviours. He says this can be expressed in an anonymous way through SNS, creating social and psychological problems for other internet users and the wider community, and lead to possible crimes.

“Our research argues that individuals with internet addiction may feel victimised and so will feel compelled to engage in a range of deviant behaviours in SNS to vent their emotional strains,” Dr Rahamathulla said.

Adult respondents in the study also reported that their online sexual correspondence through SNS are adversely affecting their real-life relationships.  

While monitoring and blocking deviant behaviour is possible on such social networking sites as Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Twitter, anti-social activity can go unhindered on private mobile messaging applications such as Facebook Messaging, WhatsApp and Google Play. 

AC Nielsen estimates that in 2016 Facebook subscriptions have grown to near 2 billion people, and mobile messaging applications came second to Facebook in 2015 and are still expanding. Dr Rahamathulla’s study suggests these more private one-on-one communication channels present increased opportunities for aberrant behaviour, or trigger addictions that generate negative expression.  

“The rapid shift from more public social networking to private mobile messaging communications increase the frequency of SNS use, bringing with it possible psycho-social consequences of heavy use of SNS,” Dr Rahamathulla says in his latest research paper.

However, rather than blaming the internet, he says the process that leads to pathological internet needs closer examination, identification and acknowledgement as a condition needing attention.

Dr Rahamathulla reports in his research there is currently no reliable data available to deeply analyse the nature of internet addiction.

General strain theory of Internet addiction and its association with deviant behaviours in social networking sites (SNS), by Dr Rahamathulla has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society.

MEREDITH HORNE

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