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China Declares Internet Addiction, Imprisons Addicts

The Chinese government, in something right of George Orwell’s 1984 has declared that “Internet addiction” is indeed a disorder (despite there being no agreement amongst researchers what constitutes the disorder). Why was that important? Why, so they can legitimately “treat” the disorder.

Government officials declared Internet addiction to affect anyone who spends six hours or more per day online (which would cover a huge swatch of the U.S. population at present, especially for those people who have computers at work). They must also exhibit all of one additional symptom, such as difficulty sleeping or concentrating, yearning to be online, irritation, and mental or physical distress. That one additional symptom wouldn’t help rule-out many in the U.S. either, since I’d hazard to guess most of us have had at least one of those symptoms in the past year (regardless of our Internet use).

But here’s where it gets scary. China also has “boot camps” designed to help addicts kick the habit by helping to change their routine.

Go back a year ago and read the Washington Post’s expose’ on the Chinese government’s idea of their boot camp “treatment” for this disorder:

Sun Jiting spends his days locked behind metal bars in this military-run installation, put there by his parents. The 17-year-old high school student is not allowed to communicate with friends back home, and his only companions are psychologists, nurses and other patients. Each morning at 6:30, he is jolted awake by a soldier in fatigues shouting, “This is for your own good!”

Ahh yes. So to punish socialization and learning via technology, we will remove socialization and technology from use. Because teens aren’t using the Internet to topple the Chinese government, but to do the same kinds of things teens around the world like to do — chat with friends, try and increase their popularity, and learn about stuff they find interesting. This is an “addiction?”

This is a very different picture painted by this BBC story from 2005.

But Reason contributor Katherine Mangu-Ward suggests maybe it does have to do with cracking down on dissidents:

But China does have a habit of taking extreme measures to keep political dissidents offline. It’s not hard to imagine that troublemakers might spend a significant amount of time online, and the Chinese government might decide that they need to be hauled off for “treatment” of their “Internet addiction.”

Really? I think it’s simpler than that. I think it has to do with control. Teenagers around the world like to rail against control and authority, and whoever has that control or authority in their lives. The Internet in China provides teenagers with a way to express themselves more freely than they can face-to-face with others.

And while some Chinese teens might choose to use this sort of freedom to explore alternative political views, I suspect far more are interested in finding out ways to convince that girl in their class to go out with them.

Let this be a lesson to all of us in manipulating mis-information and stigma to forward a political agenda that has little to do with “helping” people in need, and a lot to do with ensuring everyone marches in lockstep with the authorities.

But hey, the good news is that Internet addiction may already be decreasing in China. In the Washington Post article, it was estimated that this “addiction” afflicted 14% of teens. In the most recent wire release, it was down to 10%. Now that it’s been declared a government enemy, maybe in another year or two it’ll be wiped out completely!

Read the Internet addiction Chinese treatment article: In China, Stern Treatment For Young Internet ‘Addicts’

China Declares Internet Addiction, Imprisons Addicts

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). China Declares Internet Addiction, Imprisons Addicts. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 10 Nov 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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