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Facebook and Twitter addicts go 'cold turkey' in major experiment

10 Apr 2013

  • Enforced absence from social media leads to severe withdrawal symptoms
  • Users complain of feelings of 'isolation' and 'frustration'
  • Twitter users cope with abstinence better than those on Facebook
  • Even social media "virgins" find posting and tweeting addictive 

The UK's first in-depth experiment into the addictiveness of social media has been carried out, revealing how some Facebook and Twitter users can suffer severe withdrawal symptoms when forced off their networks. 

The ground-breaking research project, commissioned by first direct , focused on a month-long experiment where 40 people from across the UK were forced to change their normal social media behaviours. 

A number of self-confessed Facebook and Twitter addicts suffered a range of withdrawal symptoms after being forced to deactivate their accounts for a month. 

Many described extreme feelings of isolation because of the reduced contact with friends or family, while others said they were frustrated at losing their key communication tool. Some users lost contact with friends and family because they had no contact details other than a Facebook address. 

As one female volunteer from Yorkshire admitted: "So much of my life was organised via Facebook. I haven't communicated with my family all week." 

Another of the volunteers said: "I've felt alone and cut off from the world. My fingers seem to be programmed to seek out the Facebook app every time I pick up my phone." 

The enforced abstinence meant social media addicts had to find other ways to spend their time. A woman from Wales said being taken off Facebook had allowed her to focus on household chores, while another volunteer confessed the 'ban' had allowed her to spend more time with her daughter. 

Twitter addicts found the 'cold turkey' approach easier to cope with than their Facebook counterparts, largely because Twitter is less 'social' in nature and users can find other sources of news and information. 

Even social media "virgins" - trying out Facebook or Twitter for the first time - confessed to finding the experience addictive, spending several hours a day tweeting or posting updates, and many confirmed their intention to maintain their activity levels after the experiment. 

One woman, who lives in the North West, said: "Sometimes I've been tweeting for several hours in the evenings. I get excited when my tweets are responded to by my favourite celebrity." 

Dr David Giles, an expert in social media psychology and a Reader in Media Psychology at Winchester University, said: "Some people would argue this addiction to social media is eating away at people's lives, but what most of these so-called addicts are doing online is profoundly social. 

"The average internet user today is not the bedroom hermit of the 1990s but a savvy individual with a smartphone who openly manages his or her entire social life and personal relationships online." 

All those taking part in the experiment were monitored on a daily basis for 28 days, to ensure they stayed within the rules, and each volunteer was required to complete a twice-weekly questionnaire, which acted as a 'diary' of the experiment. 

The study results - along with highlights from participants' diaries - are revealed in an extensive report published by first direct , which will use the findings to help influence its customer communications strategies. 

Rebecca Dye, social media manager at first direct , said: "The experiment gave us a detailed insight into how and why people use, or don't use, social media, and how their behaviours - and even their personalities - can be affected if they're forced to change their social media habits. 

"We're always looking for ways to improve the overall customer experience and how we engage with customers - both online and offline - and the knowledge we've gained from this study will help us do that."




Notes to Editors: 

A copy of the full report is attached at the bottom of this release. 

Highlights from video diaries produced by a selection of study participants can be viewed at 

Dr David Giles and Rebecca Dye are available for print and broadcast interviews on request 

About first direct

first direct provides both telephone banking and online banking services to its 1.2m customers.  It is recognised as one of the more advanced banks in the social customer revolution. As well as its Facebook page, first direct uses social media to engage with customers through sites like YouTube, Twitter and Flickr.  The bank has recently launched as an extension to it is customer service offering. The company has an award winning social media newsroom, its own beta testing site, first direct Lab, and has won awards for individual social media campaigns such as 'Live', a campaign that aggregated what people were saying about the bank online. 

Media enquiries: 

Nina Hands or Phil Reed, Aberfield PR         0113 357 2070 /


Amanda Brown, PR Manager, first direct 0113 276 6700



  • The first direct Social Experiment

    In the biggest-ever experiment carried out into how people use social media, first direct asked volunteers from across the UK to change their Facebook and Twitter habits for a month. A small group of those volunteers also kept video diaries of their experience. These are the highlights of their diaries.

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