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September 2, 2021

How to Stay Connected (While Disconnecting from Social Media)

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Social media is everywhere. It comes in the form of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, TikTok and thousands of other platforms. It helps connect people and communities around the globe and some platforms boast billions of users. While social media has its benefits, it also has a few drawbacks. Because the deficits of social media are becoming more apparent, many people are choosing to limit their time on social platforms. Some are disconnecting altogether. Of course, this poses a challenge for many. How do you remain part of a digitally connected world without being connected yourself? Here’s how to stay connected while disconnecting:

  • Why do people use social media?
  • What are the drawbacks of social media?
  • The lowdown on social privacy
  • How to reduce your social media usage
  • Ways to disconnect entirely
  • Staying private online

Why Do People Use Social Media?

Every social media platform has its own unique purpose. Instagram focuses on photo sharing, for example, whereas Twitter is used for short-form content. Platforms like TikTok and YouTube allow users to watch and upload videos. Although each platform is unique in its own way, there are a few common reasons that people tend to use them. Those reasons include:

  • Staying connected with friends and family
  • Making new acquaintances
  • Easily accessing digital content
  • Entertainment
  • Recording memories

Staying Connected With Friends and Family

Social media keeps us connected. We call it social media for a reason. This ability to connect with family, friends, and colleagues is one of social media’s greatest appeals. The ability of most platforms to follow or “friend” others, chat with connections, share tidbits of information about our daily lives, create and invite others to events, and more makes it easy to stay in touch across time and distance. 

Making New Acquaintances

In addition to staying in touch with old friends, social media is a good way to make new acquaintances, especially for those working on audience building. Social media platforms can bring complete strangers together based on common interests, allow us to make professional contacts within specific industries, give businesses and influencers a place to engage with their fans, and more.

Easily Accessing Digital Content

On average, people around the world spend more than two hours on social media a day. These numbers typically aren’t generated simply by replying to your Great Aunt Shelley’s comment on your Facebook status. Instead, social media provides a great point of access for other forms of digital content online, like news, videos, shopping, and more. By collecting a variety of content in one place, social media adds greater utility for many users.

Entertainment

Social media is also a great way just to kill some time and alleviate boredom. It’s not uncommon to find someone scrolling through Instagram during a long commute or laughing at a funny TikTok while taking a break from work. These tidbits of entertaining content not only stave away the boredom, but they also serve to bring us closer together because social media is a platform that allows us to share our reactions with others.

Recording Memories

Finally, many social platforms act as time capsules for our memories. Our thoughts, comments, photos, and videos remain in our feeds for years and decades and remain there for us to look back on whenever we want. Some platforms have even taken this feature so far as to offer looks back on the things users shared on particular days.

What are the Drawbacks of Social Media?

Although social media certainly has its uses, it is not without its drawbacks, of which there are many. It’s important for every user to weigh the benefits against the drawbacks and determine how much social media use is right for them. Some of the drawbacks of social platforms include: 

  • Mental health effects
  • Misinformation spreading
  • Productivity decline
  • Risk of hackers
  • Poor privacy

Mental Health 

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that social media can directly influence the mental health of its users. Terms like FOMO (fear of missing out) have been coined specifically because of social media. Several studies have been conducted showing that social media use can cause or worsen conditions such as depression and anxiety, increase feelings of isolation, and even result in social media addiction. 

Misinformation Spreading

Misinformation is defined as “false or inaccurate information.” Social media contributes heavily to the ability of misinformation to spread. In some cases, this spread is done mistakenly by users who don’t look before they share, resulting in outdated or blatantly incorrect information circulating online. In other cases, trolls deliberately spread misinformation, which can have wide-ranging implications beyond the confines of social media, such as in politics and in health initiatives.

Productivity Decline

It’s easy to kill time on social media. Unfortunately, that ease makes it incredibly tempting to open up your favourite social media app instead of doing work, chores, and the other necessary tasks crucial to daily life. Because social platforms are ubiquitous and easily accessible, they contribute to productivity decline to such an extent that some workplaces and schools attempt to block their use.

Risk of Hackers

Social media is a great place for hackers to lurk. They use many clever ploys to steal your personal information or spread computer viruses from device to device. The more social platforms you use, the greater the risk you face online.

Poor Privacy

In our excitement to build our profiles online, we forget that the information we share about ourselves no longer remains in our sole possession. There have been instances, for example, where publicly posted statuses have cost people their jobs. In other cases, tidbits of information online – like the make of your first car, the name of your first pet, etc. – can be used by hackers to bypass security questions on your other online accounts. Even worse, the platforms you use will also collect your personal information and use it to their direct benefit, by creating detailed profiles about you. These profiles can be sold to third parties or used by the platform itself to target you with ads, services, emails, and more. Unfortunately, the more social platforms you use, the less privacy you have.

As one might guess, the benefits of staying off social media are the exact opposite of the deficits; your mental health and productivity may improve, you reduce the opportunities for misinformation to spread or sway you, you lower your risk of having your accounts hacked, and you improve your online privacy.

The Lowdown on Social Privacy

It’s not really a surprise that social media platforms collect your data. Facebook has been repeatedly in the news for privacy violations over the years. But why does Facebook, along with other social platforms, collect your data in the first place? Here’s what you should know about your privacy on social media:

  • Why do social platforms collect my data?
  • What do they collect and how?
  • Why does it matter?

Why Do Social Platforms Collect User Data?

There are a lot of reasons why websites of all varieties collect user data. Some of those reasons are genuinely benign, while others cause more harm to the user than good. A few of the most common reasons include:

  • For web analytics. Many websites, including social platforms, use your data to track the success of their site. For example, if a company is trying to improve how its website looks on mobile devices, knowing the types of devices that are most popular can help the company improve its design. 
  • To improve the user experience. In some cases, data tracking can help improve the user experience for a website. For example, data tracking helps Twitter recommend popular topics and hashtags to follow based on your location.
  • To advertise. This is one of the most popular uses of your data, mostly because it directly makes a website money. With your data, they can learn a great deal about your interests and use that information to show you targeted ads that are more likely to get you to buy something. Even if a social platform doesn’t advertise to you directly, it may still sell your data to someone else who will.

What Do They Collect and How Do They Do It?

You might be shocked at just how much data websites like social media platforms collect about you. In fact, some websites may know you better than you know yourself. The data they collect includes (but is not limited to):

  • Your name
  • Your location
  • Contact information
  • The searches you make on the platform
  • The people and topics you interact with
  • How long you spend on a certain page
  • Which device you’re using
  • Your site preferences (like language, colour scheme, etc.)
  • Credit card or banking information saved on the platform

While you might assume that collecting so much information about a person is a difficult task, there are a lot of ways websites can do it with little to no effort. In fact, almost all data collection is now an automated process that requires no human involvement. Social platforms and other websites can collect your personal information by:

  • Using cookies. Cookies are small bits of code stored on your devices. They collect information about you for future reference. Some of them are helpful; they remember your passwords for you so you don’t have to sign into the same accounts every single time, for example. But other cookies simply track your activities from page to page and report on those activities to the website owner.
  • Online forms. When you first sign up for a social media account, they usually want to know your name, where you live, your birthday, your contact information, and sometimes even more. Simply by accepting a website’s terms of use, you agree to allow them to use this information in whatever way is set out in their privacy policy.
  • Fingerprinting. The type of device you use has its own unique fingerprint, made up of details such as the type of device you use, its operating system, the screen resolution, browser type and version, language preferences, and location of use. Although this information seems vague, it can be linked to other information a website already knows about you to create a super detailed profile of all your data.

Why Does it Matter if a Website Has My Data?

In many cases, if you want to use a social media platform, you have to agree to some level of data collection through their terms of service. Because of this, many people just accept a lack of data privacy as par for the course. Others don’t think it matters if websites collect their data. But why does it matter if a website has your data?

  • They can sell it. Many websites make money from your data without your consent (or with coerced consent that you must agree to in order to use a platform). But is it fair for corporations to make money from your information while you earn nothing?
  • They can lose it. By storing more than the necessary pieces of data for a website to function appropriately, websites put you at risk. If they fall victim to a hack or other form of data breach, all of your information can be stolen and used by criminals.
  • It’s yours. Simply put, it matters if a website collects your data because it’s your data to do with what you will. Why should we allow websites to take it from us?

How to Reduce Your Social Media Usage

The more time you spend on social media, and the more platforms you use, the more your data becomes part of the permanent digital record. Social media platforms track and collect every interaction you have; it becomes part of your data profile. While the best option to protect your data is to avoid social media altogether, that’s hardly an option for most of us. Figuring out how to stay connected without social media is no walk in the park. Here’s how to partially disconnect from social media while staying connected to others:

  • Ask your family and friends for their non-social contact information, like their phone numbers, emails, and home addresses. A text, phone call, or even handwritten letter can help you stay in touch more meaningfully and privately than is possible by mindlessly “liking” their content on social media.
  • Bookmark your favourite news outlets or set alerts. Social platforms make it easy to see the news in one place, but you sacrifice your privacy for this convenience. Fortunately, you can still make accessing the news and other types of content convenient by bookmarking your favourite websites and simply navigating to them without the middleman of social media.
  • Go to in-person events. If you use social media to network and cultivate new contacts or relationships, consider going to in-person events instead to meet new people offline.
  • Develop new hobbies. Many of us use social media for killing time and alleviating boredom. Instead of grabbing for your phone whenever you have a few minutes spare, try out some new hobbies instead.

Can You Disconnect Entirely?

If you have the ability to and the interest in disconnecting from social media entirely, can you? The answer is yes. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy process and most social media companies will still have access to data collected about you while you used their platforms. However, you can wipe some of your digital footprint off of social media with these steps:

  1. Start by deleting your accounts.
  2. Unsubscribe from any email lists run by social media platforms, as they enter your inbox.
  3. You may notice that old results from accounts you deleted still turn up in search engines when you search for your name. These are called “cached results” and they can stick around for awhile. Fortunately, you can contact many search engines and request that these results be updated and removed. In the case of Google, you can even use Search Console to report and remove old results yourself by providing the link to those results.

Staying Private Online

Deleting your social media accounts or reducing your use of them is a great first step to improving your online privacy, but it’s not the only step you can take. You can further increase your privacy online by:

  • Using a VPN. VPN services encrypt your data and make you anonymous online. This prevents digital snoops from seeing and collecting your data.
  • Cleaning up your unused accounts. If you have any type of unused account online, be it an old email address or an account with an online shoe store, take the time to delete them to further protect your privacy.
  • Unsubscribing from email lists. Companies love a bit of email marketing; even though it sometimes feels dated, it’s still effective. But in order to protect your privacy online, take the time to unsubscribe from the lists you’re a part of.

These methods are far from the only ones you can use to reduce your digital footprint and improve your privacy online. Check out our full article about reducing your online presence to learn more.

Conclusion

Just because social media is everywhere doesn’t mean it has to be the only way to be social. Even though social media keeps us connected in one of the most convenient ways, with a little bit of dedication, it’s just as easy to remain connected while being social media-disconnected.

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