What are the long-term effects of quitting social media? Almost nobody can log off long enough to find out! My Mind News investigates.
A modern-day issue
Being on social media has become synonymous with living in the 21st century. Year after year, new platforms and more intelligent algorithms are roping us into highly addictive online worlds. However, a growing number of people have noticed this trend and are actively trying to resist it.
Anecdotally, a case can be made for quitting social media, and there are numerous reasons why someone might want to. But is there evidence that doing so is good for you in the long term?
Motivations to quit
Although there are too many social media platforms to name, most people tend to think of the “big five” – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok.
Research has found people have various reasons for quitting one or more of these apps. Many quit over concerns about negative impacts on their mental and physical health. For example, studies have shown adolescent girls, in particular, can experience negative body image due to viewing manipulated selfies on Instagram.
People also choose to quit because they dislike ads, feel like they’re wasting time, or are worried about their privacy. The question then is, does quitting social media resolve these concerns?
Ambiguous data results
It’s difficult to determine whether there are clear and lasting benefits to quitting social media – and a look at the research explains why.
One 2020 study found people who had quit social media saw improvements in their close relationships and were pleased to be free of comparison with others. But some also said they missed the informational and entertainment aspects of it.
In a 2018 study, researchers assessed the psychological state of 143 American undergraduates before randomly assigning one group a daily ten-minute limit for Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat per platform.
Three weeks later, those who limited their social media use showed significantly lower levels of loneliness and depression. However, there was no significant effect on anxiety, self-esteem, or wellbeing.
And in one 2019 study with 78 participants, half were asked to take a one-week break from Facebook and Instagram. To the researchers’ surprise, the users in this group who were generally active on social media experienced less positive psychological effects than those in the control group.
With research findings painting several different pictures, it’s safe to say our relationship with social media – and how it affects us – is very complex.
Hard to resist
There appear to be no published studies that have assessed the long-term impacts of permanently quitting social media. This is probably because it’s challenging to find participants who will agree to be randomly assigned the task of dropping social media forever.
One important consideration is that some individuals who quit social media will eventually return. Reasons for returning include feeling left out, fearing loss of connections, wanting to regain access to interesting or helpful information, feeling social pressure to rejoin, or simply feeling that quitting wasn’t the right choice.
Even if researchers do find a large enough group of people willing to quit social media for good, conducting long-term follow-ups would be highly resource-intensive. Beyond that, it would be challenging to figure out how much of a participant’s increase (or decrease) in life satisfaction is due to quitting social media and not other factors.
As such, there’s no evidence that quitting social media has concrete long-term benefits. And in the short term, results are mixed.
Should I quit (or not?)
Any of this doesn’t mean quitting (for a short or long period) wouldn’t be beneficial for some people. Any potential benefits will likely depend on the individual quitting and why they’re doing it.
For instance, the consensus that emerges from the research is that the way you use social media plays a significant role in how negative or positive your experience is. By using social media mindfully, users can minimize potential harm while retaining the benefits.
For some, it may only be one platform causing unease. If you strongly dislike Instagram’s tendency to be hyper-focused on people’s private lives, then you could simply stop using Instagram.
Another technique is to curate your social media feeds by engaging only with valuable and positive content. For instance, many young women take steps to avoid seeing perfect bodies all day on their social media.
If you’re still wondering whether quitting might be good for you, the simplest way to find out is to experiment and do it. Take a break from one or more types of social media. After some time, ask yourself whether the benefits seem worth it to you. If the answer is “yes,” why not aim to make the break more permanent?
Have you tried quitting social media for good? If so, how did you get on? Let us know in the comments.