By Beth Kennedy
The world seems to have gone a bit mad. Misinformation and hate appears to be spreading like wildfire on social media.
While it may seem the world we live in has become more hateful, perhaps it’s finally time for people to take a break from “feed” social media?
When I say “feed social media” I just mean the social channels where you can scroll through a never ending feed à la Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. You may have heard of the term “doomscrolling” or “doomsurfing” where you can’t help but keep scrolling through your social media feeds in search of the most recent upsetting news. The longer you do it, the worse you feel. More people than you think have been stuck in a doomscrolling hole (myself included). Doomscrolling can eat away at our mental health. It may not affect you right away, but it has shown devastating effects.
At GFW Clothing, we’re well aware of the amazing advantages social media can have. Social media opens up another way to make friends and meet like-minded people. It can be a place to exchange ideas, share stories, listen to people’s experiences and so much more.
However, feed social media is designed to be addictive. Former Mozilla employee, and the designer of the “infinite scroll”, Aza Raskin, said: “"It's as if they're taking behavioural cocaine and just sprinkling it all over your interface and that's the thing that keeps you like coming back and back and back."
It may seem bigotry is rife on social media - but we have to remember that bigots aren’t necessarily a majority, it’s just their voices are the loudest (which doesn’t make them the most meaningful voices!).
A number of bigots also tend to believe misinformation spread on social media - so a chunk of the apparent increase in hate might be due to social media spreading clickbaity articles. A prime example of this is the recent rumour that the musical Grease would be banned on TV for being sexist. The root of this rumour is from a clickbait site where they took just a few tweets that said Grease hasn’t aged well (it hasn’t, but most things don’t!) and turned it into “omg the woke brigade are trying to cancel Grease.” All you have to do is look on the Facebook post promoting these kinds of “news” stories and you’ll see in the comments that people haven’t even read the article and they’ve already commented on it with things like “you can’t say anything anymore.” “snowflakes” and so on. I won’t even get started on the Q Anon nonsense...we all know how that went!
So, is quitting feed social media the answer for a healthier, happier life?
A few questions to ask yourself before quitting your personal feed social media channels:
- How much time are you currently spending on social media? Most smartphones will now tell you how much time you spend on a particular app or website.You can work out which platforms are the real time drainers in your life.
- What are your three main reasons for posting on social media? You’ll have to be really honest with yourself here (but you don’t have to tell anyone!). Do you post so you can share updates with close friends and family members? Do you post because you’re lonely? Do you post so you can have a bit of a rant and let off some steam? Are you a humblebragger? Do you try to educate bigots on social media (pssst - here’s a video on why you shouldn’t bother)? These can be very tricky questions to answer, so take your time and be blunt with yourself.
- What are your alternatives to feed social media? Can you just message people one-on-one? Would you use video calls?
- If you wanted to share something with your loved ones - do you have their phone number or email? Sometimes we find that the only contact details we have for someone are their Facebook profile. It’s worth asking for everyone’s contact details if you plan to leave feed social media. I put out my phone number in a Facebook status just before I left the platform, and I’ve seen a big difference in my relationships with people. I spend more time talking with people one-on-one now, as well as indulging in a few group chats!
What could quitting social media do for me?
Social media has it’s pros and cons, just like anything else in life. The difference is, most of the advantages of social media can be remedied with another solution (see the “How to Stay in Touch” section for more on this!). Some of the main advantages of quitting social media could include:
Better sleep: Without social media, there’s a possibility that the time you spend online could go down too. When you’re trying to sleep at night, you won't have the urge to doomscroll through social media or fall down the infinite number of rabbit holes online. Our phone screens give off a blue light, meaning our brain doesn’t really shut off properly...so when we do finally fall asleep, it isn’t the best quality sleep. If you’re partial to watching a bit of Netflix in bed then you could switch on the blue light filter on your device (most have this filter in the settings). This means you can still use a screen, but it’s a lot more gentle on your eyes and brain. Without the worry of “what’s going on in social media land” you may find your sleep greatly improves.
Photo by Joel Overbeck
Improved self esteem and general mental health: Social media greatly affects our self-esteem. Facebook, specifically, can directly cause depressive symptoms. If we take a purely scientific view, it doesn’t look good for feed social media. Science tells us that social media does far more bad than good when it comes to our mental health.
Time: Simply put, you will have so much more time on your hands if you decide to close your feed social media accounts. You could use the time whichever way you like and no-one can tell you otherwise! If you had three hours more in the day...what would you do with it? You could learn something new such as a recipe, a language, a musical instrument and so on. Or you could use it for some well-earned “you” time - read that book you’ve always been meaning to read, have a pampering session, watch TV, do a puzzle (I’m obsessed with map puzzles - the latest one I have is the A-Z Puzzle Book!), start listening to podcasts (or even making your own!), playing video games, playing board games....the possibilities are endless.
Quitting feed social media
If you’ve seen The Social Dilemma, you’ll already know the ins and outs of how social media companies try to keep their users coming back for more. The gist of it is - feed social media is addictive and people are being used so channels can make money. If you realised you had a drinking problem, you’d probably try to cut down or quit cold turkey eventually. It’s surprising that social media isn’t viewed through the same lens.
Everyone is different when it comes to making big life changes. Quitting social media really is a big life change, because social media has become so ingrained in our day-to-day lives. Some of you may find it easier to quit cold turkey, some may want to wean themselves off gradually….some may choose to keep their social media channels but give themselves a time limit each day. Whatever you choose, make sure you quit social media (or cutdown on social media) in a way that feels comfortable for you.
There are some incredible books to read on quitting feed social media:
How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division - Elif Sharak: Overwhelmed by injustices in the world? How can we nurture ourselves to believe in a better world? These questions and much more are answered in British-Turkish novelist Sharak’s essay. At 90 pages, this deeply philosophical book is a small but mighty read.
Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier - Exactly what it says on the tin, Lanier gives ten very good reasons to close all your feed social accounts (some might recognise him from The Social Dilemma!). He worked in Silicon Valley for decades, so this is advice straight from someone who has been involved behind the scenes. Funny, wry and full of useful knowledge.
How to Quit Facebook and Never Look Back by Amelia Felix - How much does Facebook really know about you? This book will tell you that...and a whole lot more. The book features ten practical steps you can use to escape from social media.
How to stay in touch with the people you love
A life without social media seems like a life without a social life. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Social media platforms are designed to give you that FOMO feeling (Fear of Missing Out). There are so many ways to stay connected with loved ones in this ever-increasing digital world.
Some ideas might include:
WhatsApp: still owned by Facebook but at least your data is allegedly encrypted and you won’t have to worry about competing with others online or seeing posts that make you feel rubbish.
Telegram: pretty much WhatsApp but not owned by Facebook. You can also order products online via Telegram and you don’t get bombarded with ads - it’s very refreshing!
Email newsletters: an old school choice but newsletters are here to stay! You’d be surprised at how many fascinating newsletters are out there! Like GFW, for instance ;) I also love the More To That newsletter - there are so many wonderful life lessons in them.
Letter writing: Yep! Old fashioned snail mail is still a great way to keep in touch with loved ones - who doesn’t love a letter from a friend dropping onto the doormat! If you want to make new friends or find love, then why not try the SLOWLY app - you can find people based on their interests, gender, sexuality and much more. You can then start writing to them privately online. The app uses a timing system depending on what country the penpal is from. For example, if you are writing to someone in the UK and you live in the UK, you receive the digital letters usually during the same day. But, say if you’re in the UK and talking to someone from China, you’ll receive their replies in a few days. The app tries to mimic traditional pen pal experiences - a welcome idea in an age where everything is so instant.
Photo by Wendy Aros-Routman
Netflix parties: Apps such as Teleparty allow you to watch TV shows and movies with your friends and family online (especially handy during lockdown). My partner and I were long-distance during the first six months of our relationship, so we used the now-defunct site Rabbit to watch movies together while video chatting. It must have helped us feel closer because six years later, we’re still together and planning a tiny lockdown-style wedding!
In-person: We may not be able to meet up in person right now, but soon meeting up in person will be back on the table again! You might find that quitting social media encourages you to make more of an effort with loved ones in person.
Social media companies would have you believe that feed social media is the only way to stay in contact with your loved ones. This is simply because they want to make money off you through advertising. If there are no people using feed social media platforms, then there is no money to be made. It’s time we put this notion to rest, as there are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to stay in touch with the people you love (and to make new friends!) without damaging your mental health - there’s never a better time to quit social media than during a global pandemic.
Main photo: Photo by Sharon McCutcheon