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Opinion: Social media’s permanent presence necessitates healthier habits

The new Meta app, Threads, is pictured. Students should regulate their social media usage to prevent harmful impacts, argues columnist Danielle Taylor. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Danielle Taylor

Sept. 3, 2023 2:36 p.m.

This post was updated Sept. 27 at 11:12 p.m.

Just 13 seconds. That is how long it took for my phone to download Threads.

In the short time it takes to download a new social media app, people typically don’t take the time to consider all the potential problems that may come with it – from burnout to addiction to misinformation. But that might be changing.

Threads, the newest app from Meta – the technology company that owns Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp – was considered the app that would rival X, formerly known as Twitter. After a well-publicized launch in July, Threads started strong with a record-breaking 40 million downloads on the first day.

But after its initial boom in users, Threads didn’t hook the public the way it was intended to. The public’s engagement with the app has declined dramatically. In fact, just three weeks after its launch, daily active users were down by 75%.

“Whatever algorithm they’re using does not work,” said Samea Derrick, a rising third-year environmental science student and president of the UCLA Camping Club.

The drop in Threads’ downloads reflects the public’s growing wariness toward social media. But what if the next big app is another booming success like TikTok? How many additional hours will we spend scrolling every day?

As social media giants like Meta roll out the latest algorithm technologies, we must uphold a critical attitude toward new apps and implement self-regulation strategies to control our social media usage.

Many UCLA community members described not frequently engaging with Threads, if they engaged at all, and their reasons have broader implications for the conversation around social media.

Some students did not download Threads because they were concerned about how high their social media screen time was already.

“It’s so addicting,” said Jack Edward, a rising third-year cognitive science student and president of the Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence Club. “It’s hard once you start something to kind of wean yourself off of it.”

Edward added that learning about how social media impacts the brain has caused him to think twice about his usage.

When consumers interact with their feed, the brain’s reward center releases dopamine, which stimulates the repetition of the same behaviors that caused the release. Studies show that the constant influx of dopamine leads to social media addictions and lowers the brain’s ability to synthesize the chemical.

Edward also said he was hesitant to download Threads because deleting the account requires that the user delete their Instagram account. This tactic to compel users to keep the app has evidently not resulted in the intended effect.

Tonia Sutherland, an assistant professor in the information studies department, said she stays away from all Meta apps, including Threads, because she feels that Meta isn’t concerned with creating a safe space for everyone. Instead, she sticks to a space on the platform X known as Black Twitter to build a sense of community.

Black Twitter is a network of people who connect through Black culture and who use the platform to discuss the Black community’s issues.

“I won’t leave Twitter (X) as long as there’s a Black Twitter because that space makes me feel at home,” Sutherland said.

Beyond the lack of safe spaces, misinformation on social media is another deterrent. In a 2020 survey, 38.2% of people reported sharing information via social media that turned out to be false. Meta has come under fire for misinformation several times before, such as when Facebook was criticized for allowing dangerous vaccine misinformation to spread during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sammy Levy, a rising third-year computer science student, said he’s cautious with his social media usage because it can get him upset or worried about things that aren’t true.

The UCLA community’s varying levels of engagement with Threads suggest an increasing awareness of the harm social media is doing.

One might argue that social media has positive attributes. It is, after all, a way to stay connected to people you wouldn’t see regularly. It can be a helpful tool for spreading information, and it creates networking opportunities. Social media is also a vehicle for activism and a great way to share moments.

Frankly, it can also just be entertaining.

Social media does have inherent value, and it is likely here to stay. If that’s the case, then we must establish healthier regulation practices.

Here are six strategies the UCLA community should consider implementing.

1. Make a concerted effort to stop scrolling in one-on-one or small group settings. This gives the impression that what’s going on around you is not worthy of your attention, and it prevents you from living in the moment.

“There’s a bigger world out there. … It seems like they are, but not everybody in the world is on Twitter (X) or Instagram,” Sutherland said.

2. Try not to scroll right when you wake up. Eighty-nine percent of Americans report checking their phone within a 10-minute period after waking up, which has been proven to increase stress. Instead, tap into healthier ways to start your day, such as exercise or meditation.

3. You aren’t perfect in real life, so you don’t have to be perfect online. The lengths to which people are willing to go to portray an idyllic life are getting ridiculous. One company in Los Angeles even allows people to pay for a photoshoot in a private jet.

4. Take some time off. Social media usage has been linked to outcomes such as negative body image. A 2022 study found that fasting from social media for three days significantly helped girls improve their self-esteem.

I have tried this strategy myself. Last summer, I deactivated Instagram, my favorite app. At first, it was incredibly challenging, but now, I actually prefer to leave my profile deactivated most of the time since I feel more centered and have extra free time.

5. Go smell the roses. Connecting with nature is a great way to clear your head and decompress without your phone.

Derrick said Camping Club’s quarterly trips help people connect in nature without phones or social media, and people often don’t realize how much they need a break.

6. Lastly, whenever you choose to hit the download button on a new social media app, I encourage you to take longer than 13 seconds to think critically about how you plan to regulate your usage.

If we don’t change our social media habits, we run the risk of scrolling years of our lives away. We must set ourselves up with healthy strategies now before companies like Meta cook up even smarter, more addictive algorithms to keep us hooked.

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