Would you like a side of Bergman and vinyl records with your "screw you" to Facebook?
Yes, yes you would.
Ditching Facebook has become a new, elitist form of "conspicuous non-consumption," on par with refusing television, argues New York University assistant professor Laura Portwood-Stacer in a recent article published in the Journal of New Media and Society. Once upon a time, being on Facebook meant you were hip. Now, not having a Facebook account is the status symbol -- at least to some.
Based on interviews with 20 Facebook non-users and analysis of Facebook-quitter confessionals, Portwood-Stacer examines why people leave Facebook, how they communicate their rejection and how their abstention comes across.
"[T]he question is," she writes, "Can refusal make a persuasive point about one's values where media consumption is concerned, or does it just end up making one look like 'a giant douchebag'?"
Most often it can't, and most often it does: Quitting Facebook is cool, but, like popping your collar or wearing a fedora, you'll probably look ridiculous to all but a select group.
While the non-users themselves might feel good about signing off, their family and friends are more likely to be annoyed by the inconvenience it poses, hurt at being left behind and irritated by the "holier than thou" and "hipper than thou" signals it sends. Even those abstainers who leave the social network for moral reasons -- i.e. they object to Facebook's privacy policies, its politics, its stance on free speech, its corporate governance -- get lumped in with the "giant douchebags."
"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. This is consistent with Krcmar's finding that families who chose not to consume television 'share a belief that they were iconoclasts, and for the most part, they relished that role,'" writes Portwood-Stacer. Yet she concludes "[Q]uitting is a limited tactic for those who would strategize against Facebook and other hegemons of media culture."
Like tossing out the boob tube or insisting on going around without a cell phone, ditching Facebook, though embraced as a kind of counter-culture status symbol by those who quit, smacks of elitism to others, in part because it suggests whoever quits has enough social cachet or stature to make socializing on Facebook unnecessary. They're too busy, too important to have to be beholden to posting photos or status updates. (Quick, someone tell the Rich Kids of Instagram.)
Portwood-Stacer suggests that being able to de-Facebook "is a privilege itself," an argument also put forth by Alice Marwick, an assistant professor at Fordham University.
"The publicly stated choice to abstain from Facebook is also socially meaningful in that it implies a certain level of cultural and economic capital to be able to choose not to access a social media technology as a way to make a statement," Portwood-Stacer writes (emphasis the author's).
In a blog post published in 2011, Marwick posits there's a "cost of opting out," particularly among certain communities.
"While I have zero love for Facebook, I stay on it because otherwise I'd miss out on 75 percent of the invitations in my friends group," writes Marwick. "And I don’t think it’s for anyone else to say that I should expect my friends to cater to my socially abnormal preference, or that I should prioritize my own personal irritation at Facebook over the very human impulses to connect and socialize."
There may be some good news in all of this for Facebook. The article's findings suggest that for consumers, Facebook has become as mainstream as televisions and telephones -- though perhaps just as a pedestrian. And while Facebook users have made little secret of their annoyance (and even boredom) with the social network, quitting Facebook can come at a cost to a user's social standing, one that might not justify ditching the site.