Home Advice & How-ToSafety Is it Time to Delete Social Media? A Look at the Arguments
Home Advice & How-ToSafety Is it Time to Delete Social Media? A Look at the Arguments

Is it Time to Delete Social Media? A Look at the Arguments

by Fred Decker

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?  Do you head straight to the shower?  Stop first for a moment’s cuddle with a pet, a kid, or your significant other?  Or…do you immediately grab your phone from the nightstand and start scrolling through your social media accounts to see what you’ve missed overnight?  For a lot of people it’s the latter, and it may also have been the last thing you did before going to sleep…and what you did at lunch, and during your coffee break, and after dinner while the kids played Fortnite. 

You may not personally have arrived at that point yet, or you may have passed it long ago.  Either way, there are many good reasons to consider deleting your social media accounts (or at least, dialing way, waaay back).  Here are seven of them, and some arguments to help you clarify how you think about your social media use. 

1. Social Media Soaks up a Lot of Time

This is as good a reason as any to start with: Social media can suck up a lot of your day.  According to research site Statista, the average person spends 145 minutes each day on social media.  That’s two hours and 25 minutes, or almost 17 hours over the course of a seven-day week.  Of course, this is just an average.  Some people spend less time, others spend much, much more. 

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That’s an astonishing amount of time, when you think about it.  It’s more time than we spend (on average) on housework, food prep, eating and drinking, child care, or volunteering.  It’s the equivalent of a part-time course, or an evening class.  It’s time you could use to relax, develop new skills, or just simply have fun with the people in your life. 

2. Social Media May Distort Your View of the World

Social media platforms don’t charge money, on the whole (business-oriented LinkedIn is the outlier, in that respect).  Instead, they generate revenue through “engagement” — all of the things you like, share, quote, retweet or click on — with the platform, and the potential advertising revenue that engagement represents. 

The problem is that each platform’s algorithms try to give you more of what you like, or at least what it thinks you like.  It’s the information equivalent of how fast food chains have steadily increased portion sizes, or found novel ways to load their menus with ever-greater quantities of cheese and bacon. Unfortunately — like the foods in that analogy — the content (and advertising) the algorithm promotes is often unhealthy, pushing misinformation, conspiracy theories and socially or politically polarizing material.  

3. Social Media Can Make You Feel that Your Life Doesn’t Measure Up

It’s a perfectly normal, human trait to compare ourselves to others.  We want to know how we measure up, and why not?  We all know in some part of our mind that it’s never that simple — no two people have exactly the same circumstances and abilities — but we do it anyway.  Social media makes this worse, because you’re not (as they say) comparing apples to apples. 

You see your own life in all its gloriously chaotic, unpredictable — and often unwanted — messiness, but you’re comparing that real-world, well…“real-ness”… to a glossy, curated version of someone else’s life that’s had all the inconvenient parts edited out.  Dr. Samantha Boardman, a psychologist, calls that “duck syndrome”: You’re seeing the serene above-water part of the duck, but not the feet paddling madly below the surface to create that impression.

Comparing your own real life to someone else’s illusory perfection is a certain recipe for unhappiness and dissatisfaction.  

4. Social Media Can Be Bad for Your Mental Health

A more insidious side of the same psychological quirk makes us feel that we ourselves, as people, don’t measure up.  In a best scenario, that’s the kind of chronic, low-grade insecurity that can sap our happiness and confidence.  At its worst, numerous studies have demonstrated that it can lead to depression, anxiety, body image issues and other forms of mental illness. 

Many researchers consider the risks to be especially high for teens, who are still actively shaping their self-image and are therefore more vulnerable.  After all, how many real teens look like the actors and models on Instagram?  How many real girls’ faces look like the idealized, Disney-esque versions of themselves they can create with Snapchat filters?

Teens may be especially susceptible, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, most adults are vulnerable as well. 

5. Social Media Can Be Bad for Your Privacy

Okay, a quick show of hands: Who can remember hearing the word “over-share” before social media came along?  Yeah, that’s right.  It’s not that the reality of it is new — we can assume humans have been blurting too much about ourselves for as long as we’ve had a language to do it — but until social media, the audience for our indiscretions was limited.  Now, we unthinkingly spill the most intimate details of our lives in a public place where it’s not only viewable, but recorded for posterity

You may shrug, and think “I’ve got nothing to hide,” but that’s short-sighted.  Remember that link you posted to your grandma’s obituary?  You just told everyone your mother’s maiden name.  The funny/sad story you posted on a dog-lovers’ page included the name of your first pet, and a few more minutes on your timeline might furnish your date of birth, hometown and the name of your high school.  In short, an identity thief who bought your name, credit card number, and security code on the Dark Web could quickly find everything else needed to successfully impersonate you. 

Similarly a plain ol’ thief who sees your post every Friday from the same park knows when to break into your home, and a stalker (or process server) who sees the same post knows where to find you.

The Case for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts

We could continue, but at this point a few more examples probably won’t matter.  Let’s draw the line at seven reasons, and review the case for deleting your social media accounts. 

  • You’ll regain a whole lot of your time, and — to borrow the proverbial observation about real estate — “they ain’t makin’ any more of it.” 
  • Social media can warp your outlook on the world, your own life and yourself as a person.
  • Social media can cause (or aggravate) anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia and a host of other mental health issues. 
  • Social media isn’t the only threat to your privacy in our modern world, but it’s invasive in ways that Orwell and Huxley couldn’t have dreamed of when they wrote 1984 and Brave New World.

You may consider yourself jaded or blasé about modern, online digital life, but perhaps a few of those points may resonate with you.  So let’s assume for a moment you’ve undertaken a serious reconsideration of your social media usage, and you’re willing to at least consider quitting social media entirely.  What might that look like?  

Delete Social Media Cold Turkey (Spoiler: It’s Hard)

Even if you wake up tomorrow morning and decide you’re done with social media, it’s going to take a little while to actually get the job done.  To begin with, you should at least make a post (or message your contacts) to let everyone know you’re bowing out.  Otherwise you’ll be the digital equivalent of the apocryphal guy who goes out to the store and never comes back, and some of your online friends will fear you’ve come to harm.  It’s a small but very important courtesy.

Next, you’ll need to visit every platform’s help pages to learn how to download any photos, posts or other information you might want to save (not all of them offer an easy way to do this), and then how to delete your account.  You may or may not have the option of deleting all of your personal information from the platform, as well. 

Once you’re fully prepared, you have a couple of strategies to choose from.  You might opt to begin with your least-used accounts, and then work your way up to the ones where you spend the most time. Alternatively, you might want to start with your biggest time-waster, and then chase down the smaller and less-used accounts (“Wow, do I really still have a MySpace page?”).

Either way, expect it to be hard.  Remember, you’re freeing up a lot of time that you ordinarily fill by reflexively reaching for your phone.  If you don’t have a plan to replace social media with something else, and distract yourself from the phone, you’ll be sheepishly signing up again within days. 

But What about the Positives? 

Some of you at this point may be shaking your heads, and thinking about all the reasons why quitting outright wouldn’t work for you.  You may use social media in your work, for example, or it might play a key role in your “side hustle” of choice.  Using it for work but not personally would be a pretty difficult balancing act. 

Also, to be fair, there are plenty of positives about social media. At its best, it can genuinely help foster a sense of community, and help people connect with each other across geographic and cultural boundaries.  For those who are outsiders in their own families or communities, social media provides a lifeline linking them to like-minded peers and can actually help their mental health.  On a more pragmatic level, without social media, crowdfunding would be almost impossible. 

If you’re unwilling to cut the cord completely, for those or other reasons, there’s a middle ground: You can scale back your usage in ways that protect your privacy or rebuild the balance between your online and offline lives. 

Taking it Down a Notch

If you’ve settled on downsizing your social media presence, rather than on eliminating it entirely, there are a couple of road maps you might follow.  The course you choose will depend on your ultimate goal, whether it’s an increase in privacy or a decrease in mindless time-wasting. 

If you’re interested in privacy, you might follow a sequence of steps much like this one: 

  • Identify old, forgotten or little-used social media accounts (as described above), and delete them outright.
  • Work your way through your social-media accounts and review the privacy settings for each one.  Set your account to private, if that’s a practical option for you.  If not, set it up so your posts are restricted to “friends only” (or equivalent) as the default, and you have to consciously choose the ones that are public. 
  • If your side hustle relies on social media visibility, consider using a second profile for your personal interactions. 
  • The photos you post to your social media accounts contain metadata that can tell tech-savvy snoopers where and when they were taken.  You should tweak your phone’s settings, so that won’t happen (here’s how to do it on iOS and Android). 
  • Change the password, phone number and email address associated with your main accounts, if they’ve been affected by one of the breaches.  The Dark Web monitoring that’s included in Spokeo’s Identity Protection will give you a heads-up if your personal information has been offered for sale in the internet’s sketchy underbelly.

If you want to restrict your social media use because of its impact on your personal life, rather than its potential for misuse, your priorities will be a bit different.  A few possible approaches might include the following: 

  • Leaving your phone turned off for most of the day is a strong measure.  Plan a schedule, allowing yourself “x” minutes of access at specific times, and let your friends know that this is when you’ll be checking messages.  This might not be a practical option if you need to be always reachable because of work, child care emergencies or similar scenarios. 
  • Adjust your notification settings to reduce the temptation.  Really, you don’t need to know when every…single…thing…happens.  Set notifications for only the important stuff, and use your device’s Do Not Disturb feature liberally. 
  • Monitor and limit your own usage with software.  iOS has a setting called Screen Time, which you can use to set limits on the use of any app (including social media).  The Android equivalent is called Digital Wellbeing, or if neither of those provides the features you want, you can turn to third-party apps. 
  • Train your brain away from the most tempting apps.  Move them away from your default home screen — ideally all the way to the last one — so it’s harder and less convenient to sneak a quick peek. 

One thing not to do is to ask a roommate or your romantic partner to police your usage.  That’s a big ask, and it will inevitably put a lot of strain on your relationship. 

With Social Media, Less Can Definitely Be More

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether — and how much — you reduce your social media usage.  If you’re obsessive about it to the point of addiction, going cold turkey might be your only realistic option.  For most others, scaling back or simply performing frequent privacy checks will be enough.  It’s all about your own priorities. 

If you sleep better at night knowing that your privacy settings are secure, or feel better once you’ve redirected your time and energy to more constructive activities, that’s a solid win.  Either way, you’ll be happier as a result and you’ll benefit from the long-term impacts on your life. 

After all, there’s very little risk that you’ll look back later in life and wish you’d spent more time doomscrolling on Twitter or looking at other peoples’ restaurant meals on Instagram.