Many respondents chose to deactivate for health purposes.
Experts in Qatar found four factors linked to the local population’s decision to stop social media usage, despite the Gulf state being among the countries with the highest social media penetration levels relative to its population.
The theoretical findings were revealed last month in a QScience Connect publication, by Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU). The study analysed 26 participants’ aged 25-55 who have decided to go offline on one or more social media accounts.
The participants attributed four factors to their decision including impact on time, the platforms’ reduced value, impact on their mental or physical wellbeing, or an incident that led to their deactivation.
The age choice was a key factor in the survey, given that they include those categorised as generation X, born between 1965–1980, and millennials who are born between 1981–199619, known as a pre-internet age.
With the majority of respondents being expatriates, many of them cited the need to join social media platforms as a way to connect to their families abroad. The survey attributed the pattern to the notion of belongingness and maintenance of human connections.
Facebook was the platform that saw the most deactivation among respondents, who noted that it has become more suited to older generations.
Elaborating on the impact of time, the survey said respondents described their social media activity as mere “mindless scrolling” and “a complete waste of time.”
Others have said social media impacted their social lives and personal relationships, saying it distracted them from being present.
As a result, they either deleted the apps from their phones, set daily time limits, or completely deactivated their accounts.
“I felt I would look up and couldn’t believe the amount of time that I had wasted…just clicking through from one thing to the next, consuming videos about nail polish. I don’t even wear nail polish, but I was clicking on those links,” Hope, 40, said.
Commenting on the second aspect of “reduced value”, respondents no longer saw the initial value of social media in connecting them to others.
“My family wanted to know if I was okay. So, I posted almost daily….And then…within the past two years, I didn’t feel obligated to post what’s going on in my life over here because I figured if you are calling me, you will know,” Jaime, 37, said.
On the other hand, some cited safety and privacy concerns, that contributed to their decision to deactivate their accounts.
“As you grow up and you start learning more about the implications of privacy in this AI-oriented world and how this data is used and manipulated, it’s worrying,” Zeidon, 27, said.
Mental and physical health
As populations around the world become more aware of the importance of their mental and physical wellbeing, many respondents chose to deactivate for health purposes.
A total of 58% of respondents attributed their mental and, or, physical health to their choice to go offline.
“Respondents’ health-related grievances ranged from an increase in negative feelings/social comparison, stress, anxiety, insomnia, and panic attacks after excessive social media use to headaches, eye strain, shoulder pain, finger pain, back pain, and heart palpitations,” the study added.
Some of the key issues highlighted by respondents included the negative impact on body image.
A respondent said that despite her going to the gym and maintaining a healthy diet, images of people that fit social beauty standards influenced her mental health.
Another cited the long-exposure to traumatic events that occur around the world, including the ongoing killings and dispossession of Palestinians by Israel.
“I realised personally that I had to get off [Instagram]. We’re being exposed to second-hand trauma. I know we’re lucky—that is not our reality. We are physically OK and safe….But at a certain point, if we can’t handle it mentally,” Kummam, 32, said.
One respondent even said they went to the emergency room after suffering a panic attack due to information related to the Covid-19 outbreak, forcing her to quit social media.
Meanwhile, 38% of respondents cited a single incident as the reason behind their deactivation.
“These tipping points ranged from the onset of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and the global [Black Lives Matter], the Lebanese thawra [revolution] and the Beirut port explosion,” the study explained.