Limiting, Leaving, and (re)Lapsing: An Exploration of Facebook Non-Use Practices and Experiences

With over one billion active accounts world-wide, it can be easy to forget that some people don’t use Facebook. While previous work has compared users and non-users of social networking sites, this study is one of the first to give a sense for the prevalence of non-use.

Results suggest that non-use is fairly common. Of 410 questionnaire respondents, almost one third of respondents had left Facebook by deactivating or deleting their account. Deactivation hides everything a user has done on Facebook but retains the data and allows a user to reactivate at any time. Deletion permanently removes all the user’s data from Facebook’s servers.

Those who left reported being happy with their decision to leave. Of those who deactivated, two thirds reported being “somewhat happy” or “very happy” with their decision. Those who deleted felt even better about the decision, with over 90% reporting being “somewhat happy” or “very happy” about leaving FB.

Respondents reported being happy with their decision to deactivate (left) or delete (right) their account.
Respondents reported being happy with their decision to deactivate (left) or delete (right) their account.

However, over half of deactivators subsequently returned to Facebook, many of whom had intentionally deactivating for short periods of time. Not so with deleters, 85% of whom did not return.

Proportions of participants who showed various types of use and non-use.
Proportions of participants who showed various types of use and non-use.

Analyzing stories that participants told about their own or others’ experiences around leaving or limiting use of Facebook, the authors identified six motivations for various forms of non-use.

  • Privacy: concerns about which other users have access to personal information.
  • Data use and misuse: concerns about what Facebook as a corporation was doing with personal data, for example, monetizing or profiting from it.
  • Banality: the Facebook interactions are at times described as shallow or meaningless, especially in contrast to face-to-face or other media.
  • Productivity: use of Facebook negatively impacting productivity, either at work or at school.
  • Addiction: feelings of withdrawal, idolizing non-users, and other experiences consistent with descriptions of addiction.
  • External pressures: being friended by a boss, a student, or an ex romantic partner; leaving because of being, for example, a military officer or a parolee.

From Luddites smashing looms to Amish horse-drawn buggies, history provides numerous examples of technology resisters. Studying these historical moments helps understand the unfolding of larger conversations and negotiations about the role of technology in our daily lives.

For more details, please see the full paper.

Eric P. S. Baumer, Cornell University
Phil Adams, Cornell University
Vera Khovanskaya, Cornell University
Tony Liao, Cornell University
Madeline Smith, Northwestern University
Victoria Schwanda Sosik, Cornell University
Kaiton Williams, Cornell University

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    • Good question. These motivations span across all responses, including stories that respondents recounted about other people they knew who had left, or never used, Facebook. Check out the methods and results sections of the paper for more details about our analysis.