Intended for healthcare professionals


Is excessive use of social media an addiction?

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 15 May 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l2171

An industry of unreliability

Dear Editor,

While we agree with Zendle et al. that further research is required to better understand the association between social media use and addiction (1), we feel several considerations need to be made before science jumps into bed with industry.

Firstly, the reliability of data from social media platforms must be questioned; as a recent study found that despite the minimum age being thirteen, 3 in 4 children aged 10-12 years old have their own social media account (2), suggesting that industry data has similar limitations to the self-reported Bergen questionnaire (1). Furthermore, the popularity of different platforms is constantly changing, with Facebook use in 12-15 year olds down from 40% to 31% between 2017-18 (3). This suggests that industry data may not be useful for longitudinal studies as the fluctuating popularity of different social media platforms makes attrition bias a limiting factor.

Finally, we believe industry data will not provide the information needed in order to distinguish addiction from excessive use, as social media platforms cannot record the emotional and behavioural affects that use and inability to use social media provoke. The question Zendle et al. pose is an important one and industry as well as science has a duty to seek an answer. However, in this era of digital relationships, it may be that we need to disconnect from the social media industry, in order to reconnect to our patients.

1. Zendle, D. & Bowden-Jones, H. Is excessive use of social media an addiction? BMJ 365, l2171 (2019).
2. 2019 [cited 17 May 2019]. Available from:
3. 2019 [cited 17 May 2019]. Available from:

Competing interests: No competing interests

17 May 2019
Isobel Baxter
Medical Student
Amy Craig (Medical student), Ellena Cotton (Medical student), Thomas Liney (Medical student)
University of Manchester
Stopford Building, Oxford Rd, Manchester M13 9PT