An increasingly common sight on Facebook and Twitter, both over New Year, and following the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote, was posts from users declaring their departure from social media. “I’m leaving”, has become a frequent refrain, followed, frequently, by complaints about fake news, privacy issues, advertising, or the impact it was having on their real life and relationships. Some of this is a long term trend, of people using the dominant social platforms less, and moving towards social media like WhatsApp and Snapchat where users can restrict who sees their postings and create bespoke groups of friends they communicate with. Even at the beginning of 2016 the number of tweets was in monthly decline, and one study last year found that Android app Twitter use was down 23%, Instagram use down 23% and Facebook down 8%.

Among these many leavers is Adam Campbell, a writer and editor who ten days ago came off Facebook. For Campbell the retreat began months ago with him starting to feel that he didn’t want everyone out there to be able to see what he was doing. Soon he was posting to only friends, rather than acquaintances. “I also thought maybe it’s actually having a negative effect on real world relationships with actual friends. Then, to cut a long story short, I thought to myself, it sounds like you don’t really want to be on Facebook.”

There are many reasons why people are currently worried about social media, but one key new factor, over the last year, has been a fear, particularly among liberals and progressives, that Twitter and Facebook use may have contributed to their miscomprehension of what was going on in both the Brexit referendum and US presidential campaign, if not driven the actual results. Social media psychologist and presenter of Digital Human, Aleks Krotoski, observes: “After June 23, it really became clear to me that I was operating in a bubble. And it became clear to the great British public that many were operating in social media bubbles.” Krotoski sees positives in this revelation, since it is something she had been warning people about for many years, urging people to “follow people who say things you don’t agree with”. We are now being more critical, she notes, about what we read online.

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The same process, she notes, happened in the United States following the presidential election: “People discovered that they were literally speaking to themselves." The scandal over fake news, she believes, was partly driven by people’s shock at the election result and their own struggle to understand it. “People want to point at something outside themselves, rather than acknowledge we’re complicit here.”

The social media commentator Ben Hammersley (also Krotoski’s husband), observes he has seen a lot of people “quite publicly quit Twitter”, many of them “very heavy users, who perhaps got quite a lot of value from it”. “They’re quitting it," he says, "because of the psychological fumes that remained in the room after you put Twitter back down again.” Those fumes exist, he observes, because of the political climate following the Brexit and Trump votes. Pulling back from social media, frequently, is a matter of “psychological preservation”.

Some of this, he observes, is simply a desire not to be exposed so much to the political situation we are now. If we look at recent high profile social media quitters, for instance American writer Lindy West, they have almost invariably been liberals, for whom the recent polls have not gone well. “It would be interesting to find out,” says Hammersley, “if this concern over social media was true across the political spectrum – or are people on the far right undergoing a social media renaissance?”

Will we still be on social media in five to ten years time? Undoubtedly, yes. But the social media landscape may be very different. Twitter, say many social media experts, will probably have faded, Facebook may be less dominant: possibly there will be no single dominant platform. We are more likely to be communicating “live” or via video than in 140 characters. Aleks Krotoski believes that we are seeing now may be the beginnings of a “scene change.” “Twitter has been around ten years this year, Facebook has been around twelve. That’s a really long time in the lifespan of a social media platform, and what I’ve observed across different platforms, is that once you start to get a number of people who are leaving then very quickly it becomes a critical mass.”

Celebrities, she notes, could be key in spearheading this, but the key shift will be determined by our sense that people like us, “our friends are hanging out somewhere else”.

As yet, it’s not clear where the momentum lies – where they are going. Some suggest Snapchat since this is already the young people’s platform of choice. “It is where the kids are hanging out,” says Krotoski, “and the kids are the natural generational migration. It also addresses one of the concerns that people have had about social media and that’s privacy.”

For Simon Heyes of digital marketing agency 8 Million stories, it’s not surprising that Snapchat is popular among Generation Zs. “They grew up with loads of privacy issues in the news, so what started to happen was the messenger apps took over, and became where lot of them spend their time, rather than having things on public display.”

In many ways it seems that Generation Z are more switched-on about social media than their elders, particularly when it comes to this issue of privacy. Chloe Donald, a 21-year-old star-vlogger and author of one of the top Twitter accounts in Scotland, explains that she’s cautious about what she shares with her audience – and doesn’t put much out there about her “love, life, work or family”. “Social media,” she wisely observes, “is as private as you make it."

Meanwhile, many of those taking a break from, or leaving, social media, are not so much driven by the horrors of fake news and political bile but by a belief that over-use of the technology is not good for mental health and wellbeing. They fear addiction to social media, to the regular dopamine hits research has shown it brings, not just for them but their children. They also object to the creep of advertising into almost every moment of our online lives. They worry over privacy.

Hence, increasingly people talk of having a break from Facebook almost as a self-care practice. A study, last year, by Ofcom, showed that a third of UK interest users had been on a digital detox, and one in ten said they had done so in the last week.

Sally Fraser, a blogger and frequent user of Facebook who has been on it since its early years, recalls that she stopped using it for several months. “I had the feeling that everything was getting on top of me a bit. It’s like a lot of things. Some people can drink in moderation, smoke socially, but I just know I get really hooked.” She stopped, she says, in order to allow herself to “get some stuff done”, but then went back on it when she felt she’d achieved that.

For Fraser, it’s partly what being on Facebook does to her state of mind that worries her. “If I’m otherwise stressed out or fed up I can get quite anxious about what I’ve posted and if people are going to take it the wrong way. Also I think I can be hooked on the approval. It’s quite addictive.”

Social media use, she also believes, can be a way of avoiding real intimacy. “If I’m sitting on Facebook when I ought to be playing with my kids that’s me avoiding that intimacy with my family. But I also think addiction is about trying to get something from other people and, in particular, social media is about getting that affirmation. That doesn’t happen much in real life relationships. With your kids, you’re not going to go in, in your dressing gown, and they say, “Wow you look gorgeous, mum!” Or have them tell you, “You’re so funny mummy!” They never do that.”

One thing, however, that is not going to happen is that we are all going to come off social media. Given that a huge proportion of our interactions now take place online, Krotoski says, what we need to learn is how to “interact with our devices in a way that’s responsible to ourselves”.

Krotoski herself operates a kind of healthy phone neglect. “I often have no idea where my phone is. It drives Ben crazy. I will happily leave my house without my phone. I know that I’ll come back and there’ll be emails and phone calls I’ll have missed and that’s cool.”

She advises that what people need to do is not quit social media, or take a digital detox, but develop healthy social media habits or strategies. Many are already doing this. One Facebook user, for instance, described how she had, since she used social media for work, unfollowed all of her actual friends, since they were too distracting.

Hammersley recalls that two years ago he did something that “saved” Facebook for him. While sitting in a delayed plane on a runway, he went through his account on his phone and unfriended 1000 people, leaving only forty, and they were the people “who if they appeared at my front door I would invite them in; I would help them move house.”

2016 was the year when it became okay to come off social media – whether that be to take a break, shift platform, detox, or generally say that it wasn’t where you wanted to be. It also represents, he says, “a maturation of people’s approach to social media.” People have now been long enough on social media to discern what they do and don’t get out of it, who they want to connect with and who they don’t.

As Hammersley says, this is a massive shift. “A few years ago amongst many demographics if you weren’t on Facebook for example then you didn’t really exist. But people are realising that if you’re not getting value from something, say Twitter or Facebook, then it’s perfectly cool to not do them anymore. And when people start saying I’m not getting much out of this, it sort of accelerates. The more people say that out loud, the more socially acceptable it becomes.”