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Central Standard

If You Quit Social Media, What Would You Do Instead? A KU Professor Has Ideas


On Tuesday, the NAACP encouraged Facebook users to participate in a week-long protest of the social media platformafter a report released for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence revealed the tech company's history of data hacks targeting people of color.

Voluntarily stepping away from social media, whether motivated by a political cause or personal betterment, is one aspect of a recent study by Jeff Hall, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas.

Hall and his co-authors, Rebecca Johnson and Elaina Ross, analyzed the daily activity of adult volunteers who were paid to refrain from social media use for a set period.

“Social media is deeply habitual,” Hall told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR’s Central Standard. “We lack the self-regulation abilities to (refrain). That one more message, that one more check-in is really, really powerful.”

The major question Hall and his colleagues have explored is the idea that if people were not on social media, what would they be doing with their extra time? Would people be having in-depth conversations face-to-face with friends and family or completing life-changing tasks such as writing a novel or learning a new language?

What Hall found was that time formerly spent on social media was primarily replaced by four activities: browsing the internet, working, household errands and taking care of children and family.

“Those effects are small, but can be stronger in heavy-duty users," Hall said. "People who use it a lot have more negative effects and benefit more from getting off it.”

Social media has become so integral to life that 17 percent of the people who started the study failed to stay off social media despite being paid to do so. 

“There have been a lot of very concerning investigations that have suggested that these social media companies know that they’re attempting to get your attention and pull you into your phone,” Hall said.

Efforts to make social media use habitual and addictive is the cornerstone of many platforms' revenue model, Hall noted.

“If you’re not paying for Facebook — if you’re not paying for social media — you are the product," he said. "You are the thing being sold.”

Listen to the full conversation here.

Coy Dugger is an assistant producer for KCUR’s Central Standard. Reach out to him at coy@kcur.org.