SAN FRANCISCO: Social media and tech companies are coming under scrutiny as never before, and now some of Silicon Valley’s leading figures are launching an initiative to warn of the dangers of addictive tech, especially for children.

They include Tristan Harris, the former design ethicist at Google, and Roger McNamee, a former adviser and investor at Facebook, who have founded the Center for Humane Technology.

This new advocacy group is joining forces with Common Sense, a not-for-profit which lobbies for children and families in the digital age, to launch a “Truth About Tech” campaign, with the aim of highlighting the potential harm caused by digital platforms.

Announcing the launch in a statement, both organisations explained that the campaign will put pressure on the tech industry to make its products “less intrusive and less addictive”.

According to research conducted by Common Sense, teenagers consume an average of nine hours of media per day, while tweens use an average of six hours.

And another Common Sense study found that half of teenagers feel addicted to their mobile devices, while 60% of parents feel their children are addicted.

In addition, the organisation highlighted a recent study by psychologist Jean Twenge, which found that heavy users of social media are 56% more likely to say they are unhappy and 27% more likely to be depressed.

“The most powerful tech companies in the world are making deliberate decisions that do great harm,” said Harris, who will also serve as a senior fellow at Common Sense.

“They’ve created the attention economy and are now engaged in a full-blown arms race to capture and retain human attention, including the attention of kids,” he added.

“Plenty of smart engineers and designers in the industry want to create apps that provide us with the information we need to improve our lives as quickly as possible, instead of just sucking us in for as long as possible.”

On top of plans to lobby Washington, the campaign will include consumer ads and an outreach programme to schools in the US.

Common Sense said it also will work with the Center for Humane Technology and a consortium of “concerned technologists” to develop standards of ethical design for the industry “to prevent, avoid, and discourage digital addiction”.

The initiative represents the latest salvo against big technology companies and comes after a series of former Silicon Valley workers have voiced similar concerns.

Sean Parker, Facebook’s founding president, for example, has accused his former company of “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology”, while Justin Rosenstein, the inventor of Facebook’s Like button, has also discussed the negative psychological impact of social media.

Sourced from Common Sense, Center for Humane Technology; additional content by WARC staff