Going Cold Turkey on Social Media for Scroll Free September
I would always have said that my relationship with social media was fairly healthy, but on taking the quiz, my ‘Social Media Index’ result came back as an ‘Increasing Risk’. This gave me pause for thought.
In their #StatusofMind report, the RSPH highlights anxiety and depression, negative body image, cyberbullying, poor sleep and FOMO (fear of missing out) as potentially negative effects of social media use. For me, two questions in particular sprang to mind:
Did I really have a fairly healthy relationship with social media?
As a campaigns professional I must have encouraged people to digitally share virtually every message or action I have ever sent them. Am I inadvertently affecting their mental health, or negating the effectiveness of social sharing, by promoting the use of social media so widely?
To reflect on these, I signed up to go ‘Cold Turkey’ for Scroll Free September. This is what I learned…
The average British adults checks their phone every 12 minutes. For the first few days after deleting Facebook and Instagram from my phone, I regularly picked up my phone, felt bewildered for a moment, and then put it back down again. I don’t think I checked my phone every 12 minutes, but it took 3-4 days for that disruptive urge to fade. My concentration span has certainly improved, and I am keen to avoid acquiring that again!
What FOMO? I wondered whether I would feel disconnected from friends and family, but it turns out that meeting up in person, talking on the phone, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Skype, and other messaging services kept me perfectly connected when I wanted to be. There were a few occasions when I spoke with friends and I had to say no when they asked if I had seen something on Facebook, but these things would not have been worth taking the time scrolling to find. I didn’t find any incentive to get back on social media because I felt that I might be missing out. Looking back at September notifications on my Facebook profile in October, there was nothing that I hadn’t found out about in other ways. The absence of scrolling, and according absence of an environment which encourages me to compare myself to the rest of the world, was actually a relief. In this way, scrolling is not a positive addition to my life. It takes time away from things that I do actively benefit from, which brings me to:
On average each week, British adults spend 17 hours using a smartphone/tablet and 12 hours using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It seems to follow that spending so much time scrolling through other people’s lives can increase anxiety and depression, and take time away from being able to do things that would help alleviate them. I definitely had much more time on my hands during Scroll Free September. I read 4 novels, I brought my art set out and took a painting class, signed up for a choir, and did a huge amount of research into my family tree (I never knew I had a budding genealogist in me). Having more time to do things that I get so much out of is a big incentive to keep scrolling to a minimum.
By the end of the month, I also found that I was less keen to spend time on screens overall - I get a bit antsy watching television now, wanting to get on with books or activities I’ve started instead (except when Killing Eve comes on, naturally).
With this personal experience, what should this mean for how I promote the use of social media in campaigning?
Looking back, I notice that in terms of stewarding groups of campaigners, my focus on safeguarding and promoting their wellbeing has always been in the context of ‘offline’ activities. I’ve never questioned my promotion of social media to campaigners, or encouraged them to reflect on their own use. Taking campaigning action on social media is very popular amongst certain demographics, but considering the potential negative impacts of overuse, I have a duty of care towards ensuring I make appropriate asks of campaigners.
To plan future campaigns, I’ve come up with a group of questions to sense-check my promotion of social media:
Why do I need to promote the use social media? I should have a clear reason to choose this route.
Is the action directed at a specific target, to help elicit a specific change? To use social media like this, I should have identified it as the most effective way to approach the target.
Am I just tacking on a social media share action for the sake of it? I should use social sharing tactically to promote messaging when there is a need to, rather than as an add-on which just joins a host of similar requests that can bombard campaigners.
Have I checked how campaigners that I’m working closely with are happy with their social media use? I should be aware of how they feel about social media, which platforms they are happy to use, and how they wish to use them.
Have I provided training and support? I should incorporate my training as a Mental Health First Aider into training and support for campaigners, so that I can help them use social media in an effective and healthy way.
The golden rule - would I be happy to undertake the social media actions I am asking supporters to? If not, I need to reconsider!
How do you manage your relationship with social media, and social media with campaigners? Leave your comment below!