Getting young people to cut down on their social media use is as important as other health campaigns around smoking and drinking, say the Royal Society For Public Health (RSPH).
Thousands of people are enjoying their last day on social media for a month as the first ever ‘Scroll Free September’ campaign is set to begin.
The initiative is being led by the RSPH and follows similar ones like Dry January and Stoptober, which encourage people to pause their drinking and smoking habits.
More than 2,000 people have officially pledged to quit the ‘Big 5’ social media apps on 1 September – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube.
Organisers predict tens of thousands – perhaps even hundreds of thousands – will take part in some way across the month.
Shirley Cramer CBE, chief executive of RSPH, says they were first alerted to issues with social media after commissioning a report into how young people were using the apps.
The 2017 #StatusOfMind report highlighted a range of potential negative effects of social media, including anxiety, depression, negative body image, cyberbullying, poor sleep and what is termed ‘FOMO’ (the fear of missing out).
She said: “When used in the right way, social media can have a lot of real positives for mental health and well-being, including improving social connectivity and providing a source of emotional support.
“There are a whole load of issues around social media though and we need to manage our social media better and that’s why it’s urgent now.
“The issue is actually as important as, and in fact in young people, maybe more important, than some of the other public health issues.”
Globally, more than five billion people are signed up to one or more of the ‘Big 5’ social media platforms.
These platforms are facing growing scrutiny from governments and users around the world over issues like addiction, data misuse and enabling fake news.
Prominent figures in the tech world have spoken out about concerns around overuse.
The first president of Facebook Sean Parker has criticised the dopamine educing design of the website that made him $ 300m.
The platforms themselves have said they are working to address some of the biggest concerns to make their sites friendlier and healthier places to be.
Earlier this month, Instagram and Facebook introduced new tools to give users their daily average of time spent on both the apps, as well as the ability to set a time limit for use.
In the UK, the science and technology committee is carrying out an inquiry into the impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health. It is due to hold its next session as Scroll Free September ends.
The campaign is promoting five different levels of abstinence from full ‘cold turkey’, where users quit all personal social media use, to ‘sleeping dog’ in which volunteers pledge to leave their phones out of the bedroom.
:: On Sky News throughout September we’ll be following a group of six people of all ages to see how they get on in their quest to go full ‘Cold Turkey’. Through video diaries from our volunteers and expert analysis and industry interviews, we’ll be exploring the positives and negatives of social media.