Along with composting and biking, pledging to quit Facebook has become the hip new lifestyle promise to make over chit-chat at cocktail parties. But while plenty of people talk about ditching the site, a small number actually work up the nerve to do it. So who are they? Are they less social, more neurotic or just more mature?
Researchers at the University of Vienna have just published the results of a study examining the temperament and demographics of the people who leave Facebook, shedding light on what distinguishes those who commit “virtual identity suicide” from the rest of us still enduring the “pokes.”
The team surveyed 310 people who had quit Facebook and 321 Facebook members on their personality traits, Internet addiction tendencies and attitudes toward privacy to see if certain patterns would emerge. The respondents consisted of people from all over the world who were recruited online and volunteered to take the study, though they're a small sample compared to the entirety of Facebook users and are not necessarily representative of all Facebook quitters.
According to those surveyed, it turns out that the people who leave Facebook aren’t so different from the rest of us. They’re also worried about who sees their photos, annoyed by Facebook’s constant changes, irritated by superficial social interactions and concerned by how many hours they spend glassy-eyed and slack-jawed staring at their screens.
And even among those who haven't quit Facebook, a large number say they've considered it. Nearly half (46.8 percent) of the current Facebook users surveyed said they’d previously considered quitting the site. A full 61 percent of members say they've taken extended breaks from Facebook, lasting several weeks or more, according to a report from the Pew Research Center published this year.
Yet the University of Vienna study did find several key attributes that characterized those who'd killed off their Facebook accounts:
- They’re more likely to be men: Among those who had deactivated their accounts, the majority (71.5 percent) were male. Among those who currently used Facebook, the majority (70.5 percent) were female.
- They’re slightly older: The average age of the individuals who’d quit Facebook was 31, while the group still using Facebook was 24 years old, on average.
- They’re more worried about privacy: People who had deactivated their Facebook profiles exhibited “significantly higher general concern about privacy,” as measured by their score on a privacy questionnaire.
- They’re more conscientious: There were few personality differences between the Facebook quitters and keepers, with members of both groups equally extraverted, agreeable, neurotic and “open to experience.” The only difference? Conscientiousness was higher among quitters -- a small wonder given that it’s correlated with behaviors like being diligent, planning ahead and staying on task.
- They’re (slightly) more hooked on the web -- but so is everyone: Facebooking individuals had slightly lower Internet addiction scores than their non-Facebooking counterparts, yet both groups were heavy Internet users. “[I]ndividuals of both samples already showed signs of frequent problems due to Internet usage,” the paper observed.
- They had fewer friends: Facebook quitters had left behind an average of 133 Facebook friends, or about half as many as ongoing Facebook members, who had an average of 349 friends. (A poll by Edison Research, a market research firm, found the average Facebook user had 303 friends.)
- Their tenure and time on the site is no different: The amount of time quitters and members spent on Facebook didn’t vary much (1.9 hours a day and 1.8 hours a day, respectively). They'd also had their accounts for almost exactly the same amount of time (an average of 26 months for quitters, and 29 months for members).
Not surprisingly, concerns over privacy topped the list as the most popular reason for quitting Facebook. Forty-eight percent of those who'd left the site said they were motivated to leave because they had reservations about how their personal information was being used, while 13.5 percent cited a “general dissatisfaction” with Facebook, 12.6 percent left because of “negative aspects of online friends,” and six percent felt they were growing addicted to the site. (Respondents were able to list their reasons in an open-ended response.)
Facebook declined to comment.
Other research has shown that leaving Facebook has also become a kind of status symbol, much like refusing to own or watch TV.
"Many Facebook refusers actually revel in their difference from the mainstream, seeing it as a mark of distinction, superior taste, and identification with an elite social stratum," wrote New York University assistant professor Laura Portwood-Stacer in her study of Facebook quitters published last year.
Given how many people said they’d considered leaving Facebook, here's a possible follow-up study for the team in Vienna: What defines those who choose to stay on the social network? Why are they still there?