A recently published study by researchers at Cornell University found that 1/3 of their respondents had suspended or cancelled their Facebook accounts. Although the data that they present doesn’t have specific real-world application (I’ll explain why the research doesn’t actually show that 1/3 of Facebook users are jumping ship), it does have some interesting insights about why people are doing it.
The value of this study is in the larger perspective of why people quit Facebook. The study points out that there isn’t a uniform (“atomic”) reason for people to leave Facebook, but for the most part respondents cited a variety of privacy-related concerns. The study was structured with some closed-ended questions and some free-form offering lot of depth around privacy. A sampling of their reasons for leaving: general privacy concerns, trolls, Google Plus, untreated bipolar disorder, got tagged in embarrassing pictures, end of relationship, et cetera. The conclusion that the researchers draw is that there isn’t a single impetus for people to leave, and this is probably a bigger lesson about trying to find a lowest common denominator for a billion people. Users are on Facebook for a variety of reasons.
In the smaller picture, the researchers here (apart from identifying how respondents were chosen) were transparent about everything they did. They released their questions and raw data, which I used to dig a little deeper into the demographics of the study. This sort of transparency is rare (the bar is especially low in “social media research”). From the thorough data that they collected there may be other insights to glean about this population in the future.
This isn’t a representative sample of any population. Not even close. Consider these:
○ In the study they note that 41% of respondents that were from academia (I applied looser criteria and calculated higher than 50%). And of the people who had ever deleted their account, about 55% were from academia, many curiously describing themselves as PhD candidates.
○ Of 410 respondents, they were drawn from 39 countries. Curiously 7 of 8 Bangladeshi respondents had either suspended or deleted their Facebook accounts. A little more than 40% of respondents were from the United States, 9.5% were from the U.K., 5% were from Australia, 3% from Canada.
○ Median age on Facebook is 22. Median age in this study is 33.
There’s also the fact that the median age for suspending or deleting an account was 30 years old. This means that half of the people who were purported to have done this were over thirty. There are two problems with this: technical aptitude tends to be higher in younger populations (not that deleting an account is difficult) and the decision to quit Facebook is a decision to abandon contacts for three or four contact clusters (see my other comments on the Wolfram data below). We focus so much on why people are leaving and don’t consider their incentive to stay.
Perhaps without even a cursory look at this data, here are the headlines that some news sites and bloggers posted about this study:
One In Three Facebook Users Have Deactivated Their Accounts
Millions really do quit Facebook – and never return
Facebook users take breaks from ‘life in aquarium’
In a quest to encapsulate data and make it provocative, many writers have written about this study as if the incidence of suspension and deletion applies to the total population of Facebook users. It clearly doesn’t.
Consider only the deleters: 11.2% of respondents said that they opted-out of Facebook entirely. For the sake of argument, let’s say that this happened over the course of four years. If this were the case, 2.8% of users would delete their accounts every year. The current rate of opt-out for email lists? .27%. There is far more investment and loss for opting-out of a Facebook account than an email account, which diminishes the plausibility of an opt-out rate ten times the rate of most email lists.
Stephen Wolfram’s recently posted Facebook data suggests that most people have four clusters of friends on Facebook and that those friends are all of a similar age. The decision to leave isn’t a decision to leave Facebook, it’s a decision to abandon four social clusters and most of the contact information for these. Exodus and sea change are exciting. I don’t know exodus is a realistic expectation for Facebook users, though.
What do you think? Do you think Facebook suspension/deletion is as widespread as this study says? What is your experience?