New campaign to help Saudi Arabia’s legion of internet addicts

Excessive use of social media and online gaming is a threat to family stability, campaign chief says

Image used for illustrative purpose. Road travel group of Arabic friends using tablet together.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Road travel group of Arabic friends using tablet together.

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MAKKAH: The growing dependence on the internet has dramatically changed the way people communicate with one another. With the rise in social media content and a boom in the online gaming industry, Saudis are more connected than ever before.

As Saudi Arabia continues to grow, both online and offline, 95.7 percent of its 34.8 million population now have internet capabilities. Earlier this year, Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha announced that the Kingdom ranked seventh place globally in 5G technology and internet speed, which means more people are connected, making it potentially easier to stay online for more extended periods than necessary.

In collaboration with “Social Impact Corporation UK,” Saudi Arabia’s Mawaddah Society for Family Development in Makkah launched its campaign “Use it, do not get addicted,” which aims to shed light on the emerging problem of internet addiction — specifically social media and online gaming — along with the social and economic impact it has on the Kingdom. The study was led by Dr. Maen Altengi, an entrepreneur who specializes in data and social impacts, and Tania Gupta, the director of data science, engineering, and analytics at marketing agency MRM, who also studied internet social science at Oxford University.

More than 1,200 participants were included in the study as the information was sent through online surveys and short messages via social media outlets.

The results showed that 46 percent of people in the study spend between two and five hours a day going through social media and/or playing online games. Participants who spent more than six hours a day made up 36 percent while 6 percent spent less than one hour a day engaging on social media and/or online games.

Mawaddah director general Mohammed Al-Radhi said the campaign aims to increase societal awareness regarding the danger of internet addiction, ways to fight it, and provide treatment consultations for technology addiction.

He told Arab News that 23 percent of family problems were due to internet addiction and pornographic films based on his past research.

“The campaign comes to enhance awareness in a large segment of society about the dangers of internet addiction and ways of treatment through several media channels,” Al-Radhi said.

“We are preparing to turn the campaign into a treatment program for technology addicts in an attempt to preserve the cohesion and stability of the family.”

Although it is not technically considered a clinical addiction, Al-Radhi said internet addiction disorder is caused by a pathological and compulsive use of the internet, which weakens an individual’s function in society, the family, and various other areas of life.

“Technology addiction also leads to a lack of communication between individuals and creates problems due to moods and behavioral disturbance,” Al-Radhi said. “There is also a mental health impact of addiction when it comes to social media, games, browsing websites, pornography, and online purchases.”

He suggested the establishment of consulting centers to cure technology addiction and setting a limit for internet use, particularly for children, as positive means of breaking the habit.

“Strategies should be developed to control the volume and type of use of the internet through trainers and parents, setting societal programs to help manage addiction, and being keen on promoting participatory technology with society,” Al-Radhi said.

He said the cost of wasted opportunities due to social media and online gaming use among Saudis reached SR92 billion ($23.92 billion).

The most outstanding result of the study, Al-Radhi said, is that 25 percent of internet users in the Kingdom understood and acknowledged the negative effect of internet overuse on their social life and their productivity at work.

According to the study, 20 percent of the participants said that they still need to spend more time on the internet and that 34 percent had attempted to minimize their internet use on social media and online gaming, but to no avail.

Al-Radhi also said 32 percent of the participants in the study admitted they used social media or online gaming to combat their daily life problems or improve their behavior.

Mohammed Hussein Al-Abdali, a high school student in Makkah, said that he spends most of his time on social media, specifically Snapchat.

“I found the diversity that I was looking for through the presence of Snapchat celebrities,” Al-Abdali said. “Some provide meaningful content and some of them provide useless content.”

Sharing the same sentiment, 17-year-old high school student Awad Ammar Al-Hadhali from Jeddah told Arab News that he faces a big problem when he is offline. He said he prefers his social media feed, watching his favorites series on Netflix, and having quick access to his online games to actual in-person entertainment.

“They are an integral part of my daily life,” Al-Hadhali said. “It is the way it is in today’s world. You are never disconnected.”

Al-Radhi said the problem with internet addiction will only get worse over time.

“It becomes harder for addicts to control using the internet now or in the future,” he said. “This is why it is necessary to think in more realistic, comprehensive, and creative ways to deal with this issue.”

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