The Scroll Free September campaign needs greater nuance
Scroll Free September is asking all of us (not just young people) to take a break from all personal social media accounts throughout September. More nuance, however, is needed in what is being investigated to determine what aspects of social media is actually producing a positive effect and what might be contributing to negative effects.
Scroll Free September is an initiative from the Royal Society for Public Health which is asking all of us (not just young people) to take a break from all personal social media accounts throughout September. This follows their collaboration with the Young Health Movement on the publication of the #statusofmind report examining the positive and negative effects of social media on young people’s health. That report included a league table of social media platforms according to their impact on young people’s mental health.
However, we need to be clear about what we are investigating and how we are promoting educational campaigns. Are we, for instance, targeting people using Facebook or Twitter on, for example, a casual basis or is it using Skype to chat with family in distant parts of the world, or enthusiastic gamers? We need to be more specific about what we are researching as social media and technological usage is incredibly diverse. More nuance is needed in what is being investigated to determine what is actually producing a positive effect and what might be contributing to negative effects. That will help to inform us what we need to curb and what we might need to keep and do more of. The evidence, thus far, is not strong about both the positive as well as the negative effects of social media engagement. There have been two big digital detox studies where young people as participants had their devices removed. There were some positive effects to biological stress levels but lifestyle satisfaction levels went down.
Sleep hygiene could be boosted by becoming more mindful of the impact of screen time and better posture as a result of a campaign like this. What we really need, though, is to assess is which offline activities are being avoided whereby research into this area is more nuanced. This will help to inform better educational campaigns.
The risk with general campaigns such as this is that we potentially pathologize behaviour, behaviour that is a vital way of connecting for people to the outside world. It is not just the elderly but disabled people and other marginalised groups who see social media engagement as a lifeline and might potentially feel shamed by such campaigns.
The social media engagement that will help our mental well-being will be the kind of activity that connects us online to friends and family in the real world rather than passive consumption of endless content. So, perhaps we don't need to go cold turkey but learn to connect more with people more meaningfully whilst online. We should try to do that every month of the year.