The Financal Times reports:

Dopamine jolt behind internet addiction

The effect on the brain is similar to what makes drug addicts reuse cocaine

Kristen Lindquist, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, says social information feels intrinsically rewarding to people. We get a jolt of dopamine when someone “likes” our Facebook post or retweets our Twitter link. Over time, the effect on the reward centre in the brain is similar to what makes drug addicts go back for another line of cocaine.

up vote 6 down vote accepted

** EDITED to reflect edits to the question and discussion in comments. **

Everything in the article seems credible, and doesn't seem to contradict other sources. It does seem guilty of sensationalising the subject because there doesn't seem to be any unique link here - you can could equally draw similarities with love, food, sex, sports or many other things.

Certainly we can say there are some similarities between facebook feedback and cocaine use which are backed up by scientific studies, such as this study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in which researchers used Functional MRI scans to establish that positive feedback on Facebook does stimulate the reward centre in the brain.

Positive Facebook feedback seen as a 'reward' in brain

The findings of the study revealed that participants who gained positive feedback about themselves showed stronger activity within the nucleus accumbens compared with when they saw another person receiving positive feedback. This corresponded with the subjects' intensity of Facebook use.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265509.php

Cocaine use and many other things also stimulate the reward area of the brain. This article in the Journal of Advanced Practive Nursing says that love, cocaine and gambling are all similar:

“When thinking about your beloved, there is intense activation in the reward area of the brain — the same area that lights up when you take cocaine, the same area that lights up when you win a lot of money.”

also

The drug achieves its main immediate psychological effect—the high—by causing a buildup of the neurochemical dopamine.

and

With the development of brain-imaging technologies it has been discovered that the 'highs' cocaine users experience is directly correlated with the degree to which cocaine binds to dopamine transporters (molecules which allow for the re-uptake of dopamine), especially in the nucleus accumbens.

What I've established with these references appears to support some similarity of the immediate effects. I don't want to draw conclusions which are not in the sources, and I'm not sure whether they are adequate to support the idea that the cumulative effect leads to addiction; perhaps we need more references to support that or perhaps an expert in addiction could confirm that this conclusion can be drawn.

TL;DR There is scientific evidence of the effect on the brain and there are some similarities to cocaine use.

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    I think Ms Lindquist and the FT article are being needlessly provocative. All sorts of things "stimulate the reward centre in the brain", so they could equally have likened Facebook feedback to e.g. playing squash, eating chocolate, solving sudoku, gambling, or sex. – Colin Pickard Jul 3 '14 at 8:13
  • Your conclusion is flatly wrong. Non everything that is perceived as a reward triggers cocaine-like levels of addiction. Show me a Facebook "like" addict, or, please, correct your conclusion :-) – Sklivvz Jul 3 '14 at 8:15
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    Nobody is making any claims of "cocaine-like levels of addiction" or any addiction at all. Ms Lindquist claims the reward centre is stimulated. This claim is backed up by published research. I stand by my conclusion. – Colin Pickard Jul 3 '14 at 8:20
  • The question you are presented with is: "Are Facebook Likes similar to cocaine addiction?" and your answer is: "Yes, the claimed effects on the brain have scientific backing." – Sklivvz Jul 3 '14 at 8:23
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    The big problem with this type of studies (well, with their interpretation) is that they are looking at activation of area XYZ of the brain as if it were a uniform thing. You can activate the same area of the brain to have two completely unrelated or even opposite effects. Unless they show that the same neurons are activated in the same way, of course, but I yet have to see something like that. – nico Jul 4 '14 at 18:44

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