Online social media is now omnipresent in many people's daily lives. Much research has been conducted on how and why we use social media, but little is known about the impact of social media abstinence. Therefore, we designed an ecological momentary intervention study using smartphones. Participants were instructed not to use social media for 7 days (4 days baseline, 7 days intervention, and 4 days postintervention; N = 152). We assessed affect (positive and negative), boredom, and craving thrice a day (time-contingent sampling), as well as social media usage frequency, usage duration, and social pressure to be on social media at the end of each day (7,000+ single assessments). We found withdrawal symptoms, such as significantly heightened craving (β = 0.10) and boredom (β = 0.12), as well as reduced positive and negative affect (only descriptively). Social pressure to be on social media was significantly heightened during social media abstinence (β = 0.19) and a substantial number of participants (59 percent) relapsed at least once during the intervention phase. We could not find any substantial rebound effect after the end of the intervention. Taken together, communicating through online social media is evidently such an integral part of everyday life that being without it leads to withdrawal symptoms (craving, boredom), relapses, and social pressure to get back on social media.
Keywords: abstinence; addiction; experience sampling; rebound; relapse; smartphone; social media; withdrawal.