A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

15 Things That Could Happen If Social Media Disappeared

It could change society—for better and for worse.

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Could you imagine life without social media?

For six hours on Monday, October 4, 2021, many people’s lives changed dramatically. Everything from how they worked and socialized to how they found out about the latest news and entertained themselves was altered. That was all a result of a Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp outage. Facebook, which owns all three platforms, hadn’t experienced an outage of this magnitude since 2008. Have you heard ab out these fun Facebook groups.

In a post on the company’s blog, Facebook’s VP of Infrastructure, Santosh Janardhan, explained that the cause of the outage was “configuration changes on the backbone routers.” And regardless of what that euphemistic explanation actually means in tech terms, for millions of people around the world, it meant six hours of experiencing life in a different way—namely, without some of the most popular social media platforms. (Twitter, TikTok, and Snapchat remained up and running during this time.)

Sure, it was only six hours, but in that time, people got a small taste of what life would be like without access to social media. Turns out, it’s a mixed bag. “Social media, like so many things, has its advantages and disadvantages,” Kate Jansen, PhD, associate professor of clinical psychology at Midwestern University, tells Reader’s Digest. “Broadly speaking, frequent social media use has been associated with decreased self-esteem and increased rates of depression. The constant comparison to the idealized versions of others’ lives can cause decreased satisfaction with the reality of our life.”

And those are only a few of the weird, negative effects social media can have on your brain. On top of that, there are ways that social media can sabotage your career, not to mention mistakes that can damage your relationships. But, Jansen says, it’s not all negative. “Social media also has considerable benefits, like improved social support and community building that may not otherwise be possible for individuals,” she explains. Here’s a look at 15 things that could happen if social media disappeared—the good, the bad, and the increased privacy.

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It would be much harder to find our people

Social media allows people to connect with peers and members of different social groups that they otherwise may not have had the chance to meet in real life—whether it’s others with the same rare illness, a niche fandom, or individuals who support the same social justice cause or movement.

“This connection often has benefits to the individual, particularly when they are able to connect with and gain support from a social group that would not otherwise be available to them,” Jansen explains. “For example, individuals with mental health concerns can reach out to others with the same condition for support, or young adults may find connection with others who have the same gender identity or sexual orientation who might not otherwise be in their immediate community.”

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We wouldn’t compare ourselves to others as much

One of the side effects of seeing what everyone we know is up to at all times, at every stage of their existence, is that it’s difficult not to hold their perceived successes up against our own and find that we’re falling short. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t great for our mental well-being, and an increase in self-esteem is one of the things that can happen when you quit social media.

“Social media use in general has been associated with body dissatisfaction, in part because users consistently compare themselves to the perfectly positioned and sometimes edited images they see on others’ accounts,” Jansen says. “Overt or covert pro–eating disorder groups, sometimes under tags like #thinspo or #fitspo, can reinforce disordered eating habits or provide harmful advice and information.” Here’s why one woman quit Facebook and Instagram—and is never going back.

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We’d be better (and safer) drivers

First things first: There are so many things to pay attention to when you’re behind the wheel, and social media isn’t one of them. Checking Facebook, scrolling through Instagram, posting on TikTok, or liking a tweet are all examples of things you’re doing in the car but really shouldn’t. Unfortunately, too many people are doing exactly that.

According to a survey published in October 2021, more than one in four U.S. drivers check social media, browse the Internet, and play games while driving. The same survey found that of those who consider themselves addicted to using their phones, 51 percent admit to using social media while driving. And, as it turns out, 50 percent of that same group have been in a distracted driving accident—compared to 5 percent of non-addicted drivers.

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We’d have to find dates the old-fashioned way

Approximately one-third of Americans say that they have, at some point, used dating apps like Tinder, Match.com, and OkCupid to meet potential romantic partners, according to a 2019 study from the Pew Research Center. How does that work out for them? The same study found that around 12 percent of people say they’ve been in a committed relationship (including marriage) with someone they met on a dating app. And even if they didn’t find lasting love, 57 percent of respondents said that they had a positive experience using these online dating platforms. If you’re thinking of giving online dating a try, these are the photos you need for your profile, according to matchmakers.

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We’d have a harder time advocating for our rights

Social media gave everyone a voice, and all of those voices can bring about some pretty big changes. “When used effectively, social media aligns well with the principles of community psychology by enabling individuals to participate in dialogue about social issues, collaborate on change efforts, and establish a sense of community,” Jacob W. Lane wrote in a 2019 report for Naylor Association Solutions. “These tools can enhance supporters’ advocacy engagement and can help sustain efforts in the midst of inevitable challenges.” Prime examples include Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabian women lobbying for the right to drive, and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Kids would learn differently

While social media is often blamed for students not paying attention in school, there is also evidence that it enhances their learning experiences. In fact, social media is one of the things your kids will learn in school that will come in handy as they grow up. For example, a 2020 study published in the journal Smart Learning Environments found that when social media was used for collaborative learning, it had a significant positive impact on how students interact with peers and teachers and, in turn, on their academic performance. “Use of online social media for collaborative learning facilitates students to be more creative, dynamic, and research-oriented,” the authors of the study wrote. “It is purely a domain of knowledge.”

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Potential employers would have a harder time finding us

Like it or not, social media has become a way for headhunters and HR departments to find potential employees. In fact, according to a 2021 survey conducted by the Job Description Library, 91 percent of companies use social media as part of their hiring process. Not only that, but 45 percent of recruiters surveyed indicated that they post content on social media as a way to engage with candidates. And while this may make the hassle of finding a new job a little easier, social media also plays a role in the hiring process: 21 percent of recruiters surveyed said that they’ve rejected a candidate after looking them up on Facebook and finding one of these social media posts that can also get you fired.

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We wouldn’t be as overexposed

We’ve all heard the horror stories abound about celebrities, “normal” folks, and brands using various platforms to promote their products and themselves—and having the whole situation backfire. Doxxing is arguably the very worst of the worst, and public shaming is a close runner-up. Other than that, in 2018, Entrepreneur reported that the effects of bombarding people on social media with the you-ness of you range from annoying to just plain boring to disruptive—resulting, in some cases, with a person or brand being blocked from a person’s feed.

Plus, the article points out, if we share every detail about our lives with our followers, eventually all the mystery is gone, and people are no longer interested in seeing what you have to say or what you had for breakfast that day. To make sure this isn’t happening, it’s a good idea to take a minute to find out what your social media profile really says about you.

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Our homes would look different

Like clothing, home design trends go in and out of style over time. And not only that, but we know that our home decor can reveal things about our personality, so it’s something we put some thought into. In the days before social media, people would learn about the latest in interior decor by flipping through the most recent editions of their favorite catalogs or visiting the furniture displays in their local department stores. But now, that’s what Instagram is for. According to Vicky McClymont, a senior instructor at the National Design Academy, our design choices are now heavily influenced by what she calls the “Insta-interior.” In other words, people see different types of furniture, wallpaper, art, and design aesthetics on social media and use that as inspiration for decorating their own homes.

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We’d have to go back to reading newspapers and magazines

A whopping 86 percent of adults in the United States say that they get their news on social media at least occasionally, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey. Why? It’s convenient, first and foremost, but it’s also interesting to see other people weigh in on a story. Still, while it’s nice to not have to hunt around to figure out what’s happening in the world, some of the information on social media may be inaccurate. Plus, when “information finds us,” it can feel impossible to disengage from it.

While people may claim to miss the days of newspapers and magazines and bemoan having to rely so heavily on social media to get their news, the same 2021 survey found that only five percent of people said they preferred finding out about the latest events from print sources. That said, can you imagine seeing these iconic newspaper covers for the first time on the screen of your phone?

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We’d waste less time

At a time when everyone appears to be busy all the time, we’re all looking for effortless ways to be more productive. And while there are plenty of ways that social media can be productive—including some of those discussed above, like advocacy work and collaborative learning—spending time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other apps can also be a major time-suck. How much time, exactly? According to data from eMarketer, in 2021 so far, adult social media users have spent an average of 1 hour and 35 minutes on these platforms each day. Though that’s probably not entirely time that’s wasted, think of all the things people could do with that extra hour and a half every day.

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We’d have more control over our personal information

When it comes to social media, there’s this idea that you’re at least somewhat in control of your personal information, based on what you decide to post and share with the world. But according to a 2019 study conducted by researchers at the University of Vermont and Australia’s University of Adelaide, that’s not entirely true. In fact, even if a person doesn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account, a surprising amount of their personal information can be gathered through posts that their friends, family members, and others have made. The researchers compare the situation to secondhand smoke: Even though you may have never touched a cigarette in your life, you may find yourself (or in this example, your personal information) at risk, thanks to other people. Keep this, along with other etiquette rules for social media, in mind the next time you’re tempted to include a friend in one of your posts.

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Pensive teenage girl looking out of her window.
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Younger people would be less lonely

Admittedly, we might initially be more lonely until we remembered (or learned, depending on your age) how to schedule and plan our lives in person, on the phone, and without the help of social media. But a 2021 study published in the journal Social Media + Society found that using social media multiple times throughout the day tends to increase feelings of emotional loneliness for young people. However, social media had the opposite effect on older people—making them feel more connected and less lonely. Middle-aged adults who frequently used social media also reported lower feelings of social loneliness.

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Group Of Friends Sitting Down Together In The Sun
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We’d be happier

Does scrolling through your friends’ Instagram feeds make you happy? According to plenty of research, including a 2020 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, no, it does not. But, it also depends on how you use social media. Specifically, the researchers found that passive use of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter makes us feel worse than if we actively engage with others on social media.

Why is this the case? “Passive use, scrolling through others’ posts and updates, involves little person-to-person reciprocal interaction while providing ample opportunity for upward comparison,” Derrick Wirtz, an associate professor of teaching in psychology at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the study, explained in a statement. In other words, if you’re going to take the time to see how successful some of your friends have become, take the time to engage with them so you actually get something out of it, too. Learn how to get over cell phone addiction.

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Our spending habits would improve

Paying celebrities to endorse certain products has long been part of the American advertising playbook. But over the past several years, we’ve seen the dramatic rise of the “influencer”—non-famous people with large social media followings who are paid to talk up and/or use everything from beauty products to certain hotel chains. And really, anyone in our social media feeds—including friends, family members, and colleagues—has the ability to impact the way we spend our hard-earned cash.

According to a 2019 survey from Charles Schwab, more than one-third of Americans say that their spending habits have been influenced by what their friends share on social media. Not only that, but they also admit to purchasing things they can’t afford to help them feel as though they’re not missing out on any of the fun. And we hate to be the bearers of bad news, but that’s only one of the ways you’re wasting money without knowing it.


Elizabeth Yuko
Elizabeth is an award-winning journalist and bioethicist from New York City covering knowledge, culture, politics, history and lesser-known facts about holidays and traditions. In addition to Reader's Digest, she writes for the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Architectural Digest, the Atlantic, Bloomberg CityLab, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Teen Vogue, the History Channel, Real Simple and Lifehacker.