According to a 2018 research report from the Pew Research Centre on trends in social media use in the United States, 74% of Facebook users in that country visited the platform at least once a day, and 51% did so several times a day. The numbers are similar for those using Snapchat (63% once a day; 49% several times a day) and Instagram (60% once a day; 38% several times a day).
The numbers suggest that social media is increasingly at the heart of the way people communicate in that country, a trend also seen in other developed countries with high rates of internet penetration. Whether it is to state a political position, inform friends about a job change, or share photographs from a recent vacation, people, particularly younger people, increasingly view social media platforms as the main avenues to express themselves.
However, alongside the growing centrality of social media platforms in everyday life, a new trend is emerging. The idea of occasionally taking a temporary break from engaging with social media platforms, often referred to as a “social media detox”, is gradually becoming more popular.
This trend has emerged as the body of evidence about the mental health implications of excessive social media use has continued to grow. Research has shed light on the relationship between social media use, low self-esteem- especially as people compare the reality of their lives with the curated portrayals of the lives of their social media contacts- and feelings of dissatisfaction. Studies have also shown that taking a temporary break from social media may in some cases result in higher reported levels of well-being.
Interestingly enough, this growing awareness among people in developed countries about the mental health implications of excessive social media use is almost completely absent from discourse about the need to increase internet access and connectivity in developing countries. This would not be so concerning if people in developing countries who have only recently been able to become Internet users were all able to access a free and transparent version of the Internet. Instead, many of the people coming online for the first time are doing it though their mobile phones and using data packages- called “zero- rating” plans- that privilege social media platforms and make access to other web platforms extremely expensive. This means that for many of the people accessing the Internet for the first time, their experiences are heavily mediated by social media sites and cannot fully benefit from the vast amounts of knowledge and information online.
What do you think? Have you decided to take a social media break in recent months? Should mental health considerations be part of the conversation about bridging the digital divide between developed and developing countries?