Internet addiction, a growing challenge for everyone’s health


The International Festival of Science and Arts has Raised the Public Voice on the Problematic Use of the Internet  

On Wednesday 28 April 2021, the COST Action European Network for Problematic Usage of the Internet, organised an online International Festival of Science and Arts: “Problematic Use of the Internet – Raising the Public Voice. In total, 418 participants from 41 countries participated, raising awareness of the burden of problematic Internet use.

Four interactive roundtables were organised, involving roughly 50% expert scientists and 50% members of the public, producing lively discussion.

The opening session was dedicated to online gaming as seen through the lens of a short feature film “Child”. The film was introduced by the film director and the lead actor, who outlined that art has power to raise awareness and educate people on important societal issues. The protagonist is a young man who is fully reliant on his parents’ care and income, in order to focus on his passion for gaming. Things are about to change as he finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant. The director revealed that this film is inspired by real life experiences. The ensuing discussion involved members of the film crew, gaming community and scientific experts in the research area of gaming and gambling, covering a broad range of topics. The panellists discussed the decision-making strategies (i.e., inability to reduce playing and unsuccessful attempts to quit) and lifestyles of gamers (i.e., the need to balance healthy with excessive use), the parent-child or social relationships of affected individuals, as well as the role of monetary incentives in gaming.

The following session placed the focus of discussion on to social media use and included a vigorous debate on the Netflix documentary ”Social Dilemma”.  Many participants who had watched the documentary admitted that it had substantially changed the way they use social media, and some had even deleted their social media accounts. Social media was described as generating an overwhelming capacity to capture our attention, especially among the young, creating a form of ‘dependency’ on the ‘likes’ we get from engaging in it as well as a mechanism for feeding FOMO – the fear of missing out. Members of the public voiced their opinion that we need more practical guidelines on how to talk with young people of the dangers of social media and the need for governmental regulation to protect vulnerable people from its harms.

Online gaming was discussed further through the presentation of the fictional book “the Midas Game”. The author, a practicing lawyer and mother, Abi Silver, discussed her multiple motivations for addressing this topic. Professional gamers talked about their motives in engaging in heavy gaming – for some this activity linked with escapism, while others emphasised positive aspects such as sense of “togetherness” while playing with colleagues. Agreement, however, was reached on the dangers of “loot boxes” that allow players to purchase virtual weapons, unique “skins”, or even “extra energy” using real money, and esports that encourage prolonged playing in the hope of winning monetary prizes, and the need to protect vulnerable individuals gaming online. It was thought that sections of the gaming industry designing social media use and gaming algorithms should take responsibility for warning individuals about particular health risks including the risk of addiction.

The last session focused on how to manage problematic Internet use. The Action presented their popular self-help e-book Learning to deal with Problematic Usage of the Internet”?  Many participants and panellists expressed how useful is the book in providing guidance for parents who want to know more about problematic usage of the internet in their children. Clear emphasis was put that Internet can provide many good things including possibility to communicate with each other, however, for some vulnerable individuals it poses certain risks that must be acknowledged.


Encouraging better communication between parents and their children around the use of digital media was emphasised, alongside taking a positive interventional approach and other strategies for helping people better regulate their use of online platforms, including young adults who have left their parents’ homes.

The final discussion focused on engaging with the public to hear their opinion on the key issues deserving research into problematic Internet use. By participating in a live poll, the vast majority of participants said that problematic usage of the Internet is something that governmental and health agencies should be concerned about.

One of the questions asked to participants during the conference


The public also voiced their opinion that researchers need to invest in learning more about the impact of different forms of online behaviours on people’s lifestyles, across a wide age range, and the need for a better understanding of how problematic internet use interacts with the brain.

View the Action website

View the Network website