As social media apps continue to consume everyday life, more and more users are re-evaluating their time on online platforms. And there is renewed pushback after a damning testimony earlier this month by a former Facebook employee, Francis Haugen, who says the company’s products harm children and fuel polarization.
In recent years, several high-profile celebrities have either temporarily deactivated their social media accounts or chosen to log off for good for a variety of reasons.
Because these platforms are designed to keep people’s attention, abstaining can be an “uphill battle,” experts say.
“It’s what we call the attention economy,” said Shana MacDonald, a communications professor at the University of Waterloo.
“They have built their platforms to make sure that we spend the most amount of time possible on the platform,” she told Global News.
“That is how they make money, because they can show ads and also gather data from how we use their platforms, which makes them more money.”
Despite the addiction, concerns over privacy, mental health and the flood of misinformation are some of the driving factors that motivate users to switch off completely, said MacDonald.
A Statistics Canada report published in March 2021 showed that among all social media users between 15 and 64 years old, 19 per cent reported that they had lost sleep, 22 per cent said they got less physical activity and 18 per cent had trouble concentrating on tasks or activities as a result of their social media use.
Around one in eight users also reported feeling anxious or depressed, frustrated or angry, or envious of the lives of others, according to the StatsCan study that analyzed a 2018 survey.
A majority of Canadians (88 per cent) believe social media companies should do more to prevent or remove messages of hate and racism from their platforms, according to a 2020 Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News.
A more recent online poll conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies this month found that 40 per cent of Canadians had a negative opinion of Facebook.
The vast majority also agreed that Facebook amplifies hate speech, helps spread fake news, damages individuals’ mental health and poses a risk to children and teenagers.
For people conscious of the negative impact, the decision to say no entirely is like an “abstinence-based internet sobriety program,” said Aimee Morrison, a professor at the University of Waterloo who specializes in social media.
“Some people can have one drink and some people can check Facebook twice a day, but other people find that their own behaviors are problematic and that the best way to address them is to leave the site entirely,” she said.
Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle have not been active on social media since posting their last message on their official Instagram account in March 2020.
In a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey earlier this year, the Duchess of Sussex went into great detail about her mental health and how it was impacted during her time with the royal family and a target of negative press.
Oscar-winning actress Emma Stone stopped using her Twitter account after it was hacked in 2012. In a 2018 interview with Elle magazine, she said “it wouldn’t be a positive thing for me.”
“If people can handle that sort of output and input in the social media sphere, power to them.”
In March 2021, French football legend Thierry Henry, who has millions of followers on Instagram and Twitter, said he was quitting social media to protest online racial abuse and bullying that he said goes unregulated.
“The sheer volume of racism, bullying and resulting mental torture to individuals is too toxic to ignore,” the former Arsenal striker said. “There has to be some accountability.”
Other celebrities who have boycotted social media include British actress Keira Knightley, New Zealand singer Lorde and Canadian actors Ryan Gosling and Keanu Reeves.
Despite being an avid social media user herself, Morrison says if people feel the services don’t have value for them, then parting ways might be the right path.
“If people want to stay on, more power to you, and if people want to leave it, I think that’s an entirely supportable decision,” she said.
However, Professor MacDonald believes that instead of getting rid of the apps altogether, people can put in place “healthy boundaries” on their social media use.
“Especially in children … as they are developing their identities, it’s important for them to have a wide variety of interactions and social contexts … so social media should be quite limited.”
Setting aside some phone-free hours can be a helpful strategy to limit your screen time, said Morrison.
“You can put a real live alarm clock in your bedroom and plug your phone in the kitchen before you go to bed so you’re not tempted to do doomscrolling at night,” she said.
People can also set reminders on their phone for the amount of time they want to spend on a particular app, shutting it when the timer goes off.
“There’s a number of ways, from total abstinence, like put your phone in a lockbox … or just try to find some ways that make it less easy for you to pick up your phone and do a behavior that you’re trying to stop.”
–– With files from the Canadian Press, Associated Press
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