Social media is an addiction and the only way out is going cold turkey

Deleting social media permanently might sound dramatic, but hear me out.

Emily Washburn, Staff Writer

In my three years working for “The Horizon,” the most frequent op-ed topic by far has been social media. Westmont students seem very cognizant of the argument against social media, and continuously decry its negative effects, but at the end of every op-ed I’ve read, the author calls for moderation, not cessation. They argue that it is possible to use social media in a moderate, healthy way that maximizes the good and limits the bad.

I fundamentally disagree with this argument, because social media is a platform designed to be addicting. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that trying to use social media in moderation is similar to trying to use heroin in moderation, which is almost impossible. Therefore, people should stop using social media immediately.

The case against social media is well-known, so I will not spend much time on it here. Suffice to say, social media has been linked to a myriad of mental and physical health issues, which are linked to the way that social media sets up social comparisons. Additionally, social media algorithms encourage and enable the spread of misinformation. Perhaps even more alarming, networking apps have been accused of a number of privacy violations involving, among other things, selling user data to advertising companies.

The going theory is that, even though social media can be harmful in large doses, people can control how much they use it to minimize the harms, keep up with their friends, participate in group movements, and access curated news feeds. Based purely on the way social media interacts with our brains, however, moderate use isn’t feasible.

Social media manipulates dopamine, the brain’s “feel-good” chemical, to keep us coming back for more. Every time we get a ‘like’ or a ‘retweet,’ our brains release dopamine, and then catalog social media as a “reward.” Our brains remember which activities release dopamine through a process called reward prediction error encoding. If social media were perfectly predictable, our dopamine levels would go down when we don’t receive a ‘like’ or a ‘retweet,’ and our brain would recognize that social media isn’t a guaranteed fix.

Unfortunately, social media falls under something called variable reward schedules. This happens when your brain can’t predict when certain stimuli will result in a dopamine release. When your brain perceives a reward to be random and easy to get, it will encourage you to keep going back to that stimulus in attempts to trigger a reward. With social media, our brains can’t predict when a ‘like’ will trigger a dopamine release, but the brain knows that opening the app to check doesn’t take very much effort, so your brain sends you back to the app again and again until that process becomes a habit.

You don’t have to live in bondage to your socials. (Jordan Cuskey)

In some cases, this habit can lead to a social media addiction. The Addiction Center defines social media addiction as “being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas.” Clinical social media addiction only affects 5-10% of the population, but I would be willing to bet that many users can identify with some of those symptoms. It is also important to remember that dopamine is the same reward chemical associated with gambling addiction and recreational drug use, including cocaine and heroin. Dopamine is a difficult chemical to work against.

Having established that social media is addictive, I also contend that interacting with social media becomes even more habit-forming as time goes on. Tech moguls make the most money when they can keep you coming back for more. The 2020 documentary “The Social Dilemma” actually interviewed the creators of media giants like Twitter and Facebook, who testified that social media algorithms are built to discover and map your media habits and feed you content to get you to spend more time on the app. When you deviate from your patterns, or decrease your usage, the program sends notifications and emails designed to regain your commitment. This means that even if you do succeed in quitting, social media is getting better at finding ways to get you sucked back in.

The evidence shows that social media usage can’t be moderated — it’s simply designed to be excessive. As such, the best solution is a complete cessation of social media. Some may argue that deleting social media deprives humanity of its benefits. I can confidently say that, having deleted my social media in September, this is not the case.

I keep in touch with old friends through text messages and Marco Polo. When I quit, I also realized that being deprived of my high school classmate’s third cousin’s pictures didn’t really bother me all that much. I get my news online now, and I can get my pop culture fix from E!’s website just as easily as their Instagram account. I have found that I can search trending hashtags in a search engine, and keep up with the latest grassroots movements without logging in and spending an accidental six hours on my account. Any benefit that social media offers, I guarantee that another app can perform the same function, without all of the harms.

Believe me, if I can do it, it’s possible, people. Make the decision to quit the habit today.

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