Decoded: Why is it so difficult to leave Facebook permanently

Have you ever shut down your Facebook account, only to meekly log back in a week later? Researchers have explored the factors that prevent users from logging off the social networking site permanently.Using survey data provided by 99daysoffreedom.com – an online campaign that encouraged participants to log off Facebook for 99 days – researchers at Cornell University honed in on those who made the pledge but ultimately could not resist the allure of Facebook’s social network. The researchers found four main factors that led to reversion. The first reason is perceived addiction – those who feel that Facebook is addictive or habitual are more likely to return, according to the group’s research.

One participant described this habitual aspect by saying, “In the first 10 days, whenever I opened up an internet browser, my fingers would automatically go to ‘f’.” Another reason is privacy and surveillance – users who feel their Facebook activity is being monitored are less likely to revert, while those who use Facebook largely to manage how other people think of them are more likely to log back in. The third reason is subjective mood – users in a good mood are less likely to renege on their pledge to stay off Facebook.The fourth reason is other  social media – the researchers found that Facebook users are less likely to log back in if they had other social media outlets – like Twitter, for instance. Those who reflected on the appropriate role for technology in their social lives are more likely to revert. In many of these cases, people returned to Facebook but altered their use, for example, uninstalling the app from their phones, reducing their number of friends or limiting the amount of time spent on the platform.

The team’s findings were drawn from more than 5,000 surveys issued to participants by Just, the Dutch creative agency that founded the 99 Days of Freedom project. These surveys were sent to project participants on days 33, 66 and 99 and were intended to gauge each user’s mood throughout the Facebook detox.”Facebook serves numerous important social functions, in some cases providing the only means for certain groups to keep in touch. These results highlight the complexities involved in people’s ongoing decisions about how to use, or not use, social media,” said Eric Baumer from Cornell University. People who leave social media and then return, what researchers term “social media reversion,” provide the opportunity to understand better what is at stake when people use – or do not use – sites like Facebook.


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