I've never been much of a fan of social media. It wasn't until last July that I finally joined Facebook, only to find that the person who induced me to do so was a scammer I met through my team in a game. I stayed, though, because I had gotten back in touch with so many people and built new, stronger friendships with some of them that I couldn't see a good enough reason to leave.
Besides, the chance to rag on my brothers (and them on me) in front of my friends, as well as receive words of encouragement from dear neighbors from home was much too enticing.
Other than Facebook, I blog twice weekly on Wordpress, the blog is republished on a Tumblr page, and I have a LinkedIn profile. Twitter? Nope. Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok? Ha! I once had a profile on Google+, but that disappeared when the service did, and I never posted much anyway.
Considering how easily I can become so obsessed with something that I forget everything else (I often forget to eat while working, for example), I purposely limit my exposure to social media platforms. Most of the time when I'm not working, I'm not scrolling through my newsfeeds, but watching a movie or doing something constructive with my time.
I can pull myself away, as can most people, but some can't.
According to the Addiction Center, "Although the majority of people's use of social media is non-problematic, there is a small percentage of users that become addicted to social networking sites and engage in excessive or compulsive use. In fact, psychologists estimate that as many as 5 to 10 percent of Americans meet the criteria for social media addiction today. Social media addiction is a behavioral addiction that is characterized as being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas."
Bev John and Martin Graff, researchers on social media and addiction at the University of South Wales, wrote on The Conversation that too much social media can be damaging, but social media addiction isn't recognized by the American Psychiatric Association.
"There are important differences between excessive social media use and substances in terms of addiction," they wrote. "For example, withdrawal from the latter is often physically unpleasant and sometimes dangerous without medical supervision. Users often suffer stigma, which can be a barrier to seeking help. In comparison, it hasn't yet been established that there are physical withdrawal effects when people stop using social media.
"Considering social media use more as a continuum of possible harm might allow more scope for appropriately targeted messages that could prevent problems developing in the first place."
One of those problems as I see it is that Facebook and other platforms make it so easy to spread hate and misinformation, as well as foster different realities. In letters received last week, I found multiple claims of things happening that haven't; in one, Arkansas history was completely rewritten. It's not hard to track some of that misinformation down to posts on social media.
And now we have an entire cohort that doesn't remember living offline, since social media has always existed in their lifetimes (believe me, kids, playing outside is fun, especially if you live out in the country).
Unplugging seems harder than ever. But you should.
I'm not saying you should ditch your accounts on Facebook and other platforms. I think social media can be beneficial as long as you limit your exposure and are willing to get out of your bubble. Sometimes it's easier (especially if you're like me, an introvert who is extremely awkward on the phone even with people I've known all my life) to share news there, being careful, of course, to safeguard certain information. I keep most of my posts visible only to friends, which cuts down on the random trolls and scam artists.
Social media allows you to stay in your comfort zone by using algorithms serving up groups, media sources and friend suggestions that will keep you mostly protected from the prospect of interaction with people who don't believe the same things you do. Sometimes, though, you have to take off the water wings and dive in.
Still, if you're worried about how social media is affecting you, Tech Times recommends a detox that begins with cleaning your feed: Follow only topics and people that are good for your mental health (I'd argue that this would defeat the purpose of stepping outside your bubble, but if your feed is causing you stress, I understand). Then download apps that track how much time you spend online as motivation to get off once in a while, and turn off your notifications so you won't feel the need to constantly check your feed. You can also delete the apps and instead use your browser to access social media, which is less convenient and thus will make you less likely to log on.
If all else fails, you can always deactivate your accounts. I hear good things about going outside ...
Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email her at email@example.com.