“I’m objectively less pissed off than everyone else,” says Matt, 27. The indicated reason for his superhuman satisfaction: He deleted his social media accounts in November 2016, shortly after Trump was elected president.
Escaping the coming cannonade of Trump tweets was only a small piece of why Matt chose to liberate himself from social media, though. He studied computer science in college, used that knowledge to read through exceedingly complex user agreements on Facebook and determined that social media was far less private that he felt comfortable with. In hindsight, he made the right call: The fact that Facebook invades our privacy, doling out user data to third parties all around the globe, is common knowledge nowadays. (Zuckerberg himself might as well be a supervillain.)
If you watched The Social Dilemma, which highlights the negative effects of social media on mental health (among other things), you may have momentarily thought about emancipating yourself from the likes of Facebook and Instagram, as well — before being pulled right back in by the addictive ding from your smartphone. They certainly do a good job of painting social media as highly manipulative and enormously detrimental in the movie, which is a mostly accurate, if somewhat sweeping observation.
“Many people do find deleting social media to be helpful,” says Erin Vogel, a psychologist who studies how social media impacts our mental health. “After they delete social media, they may find that they’re not comparing themselves to others as often, or that they have more time for activities that feel more fulfilling.” As far as science is concerned, there are compelling links between heavy social media use and an increased risk of depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm and even suicidal thoughts. “However, social media can also play positive roles in our lives,” Vogel adds. “Some people find that when they delete social media altogether, they miss seeing updates from friends and family.”
As for Matt, he felt some FOMO when he first deleted his social media accounts, as if he were missing out on the fun, interesting things that his friends were constantly posting about. But that only lasted for a short while. “I pretty much came to the conclusion that if I really cared about what all these people in my life were doing, I’d call them and keep up with them off of social media,” he says. “I realized that people wishing me happy birthday on Facebook because it popped up on their feed is so worthless and inconsequential.”
Beyond being more conscious about keeping up with friends who he actually wants to keep up with (rather than middle school acquaintances who persistently invited him to join their MLMs), Matt also says being off of social media has made him a more sensible consumer of the news. Rather than being stuck in cycles of recommended content provided by The Algorithms, he says, “It’s forced me to actually research the things I’m interested in. I’m not being inundated with inaccurate or emotionally-charged information. I can get a lot of the actual media through more legitimate sources that are more vetted and not just something that someone posted online.”
Sam, 27, feels largely the same way after deleting his social media accounts about a year ago. Regarding the news, he says, “I still see all of those things, but I can choose when.” He calls the constant roar of social media “too much noise” and a contributing factor to our current state of social unrest. “Everybody’s always yelling at each other on Facebook all of the time.”
Outside of the news, Matt also expresses a certain calmness in not being exposed to the molded lives of family and friends on social media. “If you just think about it logically, people post what they want you to see on social media,” he says. “They don’t post the truth. They post the aspects of themselves that they wish the world saw. All that serves to do is make me feel less adequate about myself. The effect it has on young kids is terrible.”
You may not need to take the all-or-nothing approach to feel better about your personal social media usage, though. “Rather than deleting social media altogether, some people might benefit from changing some aspects of their social media use, like spending less time on social media, using it only during certain times or only following close friends and family,” Vogel says. “Deleting the apps from your phone and only using them on a computer can also help decrease habitual social media use.”
Even knowing what they know now, there are still things that Matt and Sam miss about social media. “I miss being able to kind of stay in contact with people,” Sam says, despite doing his best to call friends and family often. As for Matt, he feels a strange longing for the hijinks that happens only on social media: “I think memes and shit are hilarious.”
But in the end, both of them insist that being off of social media has made them much, much more content. As Matt explains, “I’m not sitting here constantly pissed off all the time at how unfair the world is.”
Huh, must be nice.