Netflix’s hit documentary, The Social Dilemma, may not have presented a very unique case against social media addiction. But its powerful visualisations, a combination of documentary conversations with fictional family plagued by social media-induced effects on society, and especially the symbolic AI robots determined to cash in on us do manage to terrify the audience.

Tristan Harris Social Media Addiction
Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google, appeared prominently in “The Social Dilemma.” | Photo: Collision Conf/Flickr

How Serious Can Social Media Addiction Be?

Based on interviews of some of the people who helped build social media, the documentary raises important questions as to how social media addiction is shattering our social fabric and future. It shows how the social media industry’s incentive for profit, relentless drives for courting new users and race for our eyeballs are having serious impacts on human behaviour, making a mockery of our privacy, destroying democracies and distorting social balance.

Social media addiction, as it is known, is often compared with drug addiction. “There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software,” said the American statistician Edward Tufte, who teaches at the Yale University.

On Netflix, The Social Dilemma is a hit documentary potentially watched by millions of viewers around the world. Its trailer on YouTube, for example, watched for more than 43 millions of times.

If you have watched it and been convinced that you really need to delete the social media, go on. It’s really easy to uninstall Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media apps from your iPhone or Android devices. But if you want to strike a balance, we have some advice for you.

Turn off or at least limit the notifications

Yes, in my view, the makers of the documentary are right when they say social media apps get us to spend more time using them by showing us carefully selected notifications that may interest us, calculated according to our profiling dictated by an algorithm.

So perhaps, the first measure you can take to cut down the time you spend on social media apps (without outright uninstalling them) is prevent them from sending you too many notifications or any notifications at all.

Delete the existing data and restrict social media from collecting data

If you are worried about social media companies collecting data about you to perfect their products and selling ads, you may want to delete the existing data social media sites have on your or at least restrict them as much as possible from collecting data on you.

(Yes, you can view and delete the existing data they have on you, thanks to a groundbreaking California privacy law, namely the California Consumer Privacy Act.)

Share less!

In addition, exercise caution when you share posts or photos on social media. Remember, when it comes to social media posting, the rule is the other way around: the less the merrier! The less you share, the less they are likely to know too much about you.

Even, photos themselves have certain data such as EXIF data that may contain your location data. If you want to be extra cautious, you may want to remove EXIF data from a photo before uploading it on social media.

You may also want to use browsers such as Mozilla Firefox on your phone that restrict websites from collecting cookies data.

Google, especially its search engine, is also notorious for collecting user data for displaying personalised ads. It may sound impractical, but you can use alternative search engines such as duckduckgo that do not track you.

Keep your location turned off

A key piece of information that social media sites have on you is where you have gone over a period of time. (Also, it drains your battery.) If you already turned off location on your smartphone, you may be safe to some extent (but not fully, no one is). But if you have not already, please do now.

Use the location feature of the smartphone only when you absolutely need to such as when you have to use the map. Disable the location feature when you do not need it anymore. You can easily enable it again later.

Also, try not to mention or tag locations on social media postings.

Blue Light – a major culprit

A major factor for your social media addiction may not be the apps themselves. In this case, the culprit may be your smartphone. Smartphone displays omit blue lights which may make you awake in the night. The blue light is used in smartphone displays because it helps you see the display in daylight. But in the night, the blue light gives your brain the impression that it is still the day.

To solve the problem, all modern smartphones come with blue light filters or night mode. These filters protect your eyes from blue light and help you sleep. If you set the blue light filter in the evening, chances are better you will enjoy a sound sleep.

Travel and meet friends offline

One of the best ways to break social media addiction is not something to do with your smartphone or digital device. It is about doing exactly the opposite of what social media have to offer: meet people offline.

Hang out with friends in a bar or a restaurant, have a quality time in a library, or play outdoor sports. Travel is a great mind refresher, especially if you love travelling. Gather your friends and go for a trip somewhere serene. It will freshen up your mind and reduce your urge to spend time on social media. Some say travelling could be an excellent social media detox strategy.