Six things learned from going social media free

Tens of thousands of people are estimated to be preparing to log into social media for the first time in a month as Scroll Free September draws to an end.

The campaign, led by the Royal Society For Public Health, was started to raise awareness about the issues around the “Big 5” social platforms and throughout the month we’ve been following six volunteers as they attempted to go “cold turkey”.

All our volunteers will, on Monday, log in to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube live on Sky News. They’ve all stayed strong despite the urge to scroll. Here’s what they’ve learned about their relationship with social media.

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Image: Sally Deller has missed interacting with friends

‘It’s like trying to quit smoking’ – Sally Deller, 71, from Loughborough

“I’ve learnt that I do rely on social media a lot in my life and I noticed, at least for the first week, that I had the same feelings of withdrawal that you get from trying to quit smoking.

I think I rely on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, so much because I live alone and it’s such a brilliant and vital tool for keeping in touch with friends.

I’ve missed the interaction with people, I’ve missed events, social invites and a lot of my Facebook friends live overseas and you don’t text people in the same way overseas, so I’ve missed that a lot. It’s been really challenging and I don’t think I’d want to do it again.”

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Video: Young people are increasingly using social media to achieve change

‘Social media is bad for my sleep’ – Thomas Tozer, 25, from London

Before this challenge I used to spend a lot of time scrolling on Facebook and YouTube. I’d sit there often late or early watching things that the algorithm threw up at me.

The best part of Scroll Free September is the time I’ve managed to reclaim which has enabled me to have better night-time routines and get up earlier in the mornings to meditate – it’s really set me up for the day!

So, although it’s been a real challenge, especially the last week, I’ve found it very valuable and I’d be very happy to do it again in the future. It’s the sort of thing that unless you’re on the challenge, it’s very hard to break those cravings and habits because you’re just used to following them and giving in to them, and there’s no real strong reason why you shouldn’t.

Geoff Betteridge
Image: Geoff Betteridge has realised he wastes far too much time scrolling

‘Without social media, I’ve cut my screen time down two-thirds’ – Geoff Betteridge, 74, from Kent

I’ve learnt this month that I waste far too much time on my social media platforms – mainly Twitter and Facebook – and it has stopped me in the past from engaging fully with friends and family, which I think I’ve now corrected.

Once I log back in I’m going to have a cull on the three social media platforms I use and get rid of anything that isn’t friends, family or really important to me.

Having done the exercise I know that my screen time was mostly tied up with social media platforms. I’ve cut my time looking at laptops and phones by about two-thirds.

The whole thing has been a big lesson and I think for my age group you’ve got to try to limit what you do on social media platforms and get out into the big wide world, because it’s great out there.

Emily Snow
Image: Emily Snow is reaping the benefits of getting up earlier

‘Breaking the habit is actually not as hard as I thought’ – Emily Snow, 22, from Leeds

The month was easier than I thought it would be, I thought I would really struggle but it’s not been as hard as I thought. I think my habits have changed and I’ve got used to life without it.

There have been several occasions where I’ve been itching to post a picture on Instagram or see what my friends have been up to on their stories on Instagram.

I noticed that I spend most of my time on social media when I’m actually stressed. I found that I want to log on when I’m stressed, just so not to think about anything, so I realised that I rarely go on social media because I actually want to go on. It was more just a habit.

I want to carry on not using social media when I first wake up in the morning because the massive change for me has been that I get up much earlier and it’s been really beneficial for me.

Benjamin Fox
Image: Benjamin Fox soon got over his fear of missing out

‘FOMO is real and it takes a while to get over’ – Benjamin Fox, 17, from Darlington

The best thing has been that I’ve had more time to spend with friends and family but the worst thing has been having FOMO – fear of missing out.

Though that was very much in my head at the start, as soon as I got over that it was fine. This challenge has allowed me to have a mental checkpoint for myself and what I do with my time.

A future message to myself once I’m back online would be to not spend so much time on social media and also to turn off my phone/pc etc and turn off the apps for a bit, take a break and have a clean slate for a while, and then tune back in when I’m ready.

Eyal Booker talks social media and FOMO, saying it's alright to take breaks. 0:24

Video: The Love Island contestant says breaks from social media are important

‘Texting is boring – it’s just green blobs of words’ – Emma Jackson, 15, Wigan

What I’ve learned about this month is that there is no need to be on your phone as much, like going on social media is an addiction and a habit, and breaking the habit of social media is a really positive thing to do.

However, the good thing about social media is that you can talk to your friends in many different ways, for example, I’ve been talking to my friends through text for the whole month and it’s been boring not talking to them on Snapchat and Instagram.

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I have a group chat on Instagram with my friends where we send in things we find funny and I’ve missed not being able to send those things in.

One thing I’ve noticed about social media is that it consumes people’s lives and it’s all people talk about nowadays, like most of my friends will start the conversation with, “Did you see this on Instagram?” etc, and there isn’t any point about talking about it because there are many more things to talk about other than what you just saw on Instagram.

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