ITHACA, N.Y. - With more than a billion active accounts worldwide, it can be easy to forget that some people don't use Facebook.
A study by Cornell University researchers presented this week in Paris suggests that "non-use" of the social networking site is fairly common - a third of Facebook users take breaks from the site by deactivating their account, and one in 10 completely quit.
Of 410 people who responded to an online questionnaire, 46 reported that they had deleted their Facebook account. More than 90 percent said they were happy with their decision, and most stayed away. Others were not able to completely cut themselves off, but nonetheless reported taking breaks from using the social networking site.
More than one-quarter of respondents (110) reported deactivating their account, which hides everything they have done on Facebook but retains the data and allows them to reactivate at any time. Two-thirds of deactivators reported being happy with their decision; one-third subsequently returned to Facebook.
A few respondents reported using other creative means to limit their use of the site, according to the study's lead author, Eric P. S. Baumer, a postdoctoral associate in communication at Cornell. The study was presented on May 2 at the Association for Computing Machinery's Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris, France.
"Several participants asked their significant other or spouse to change their password, only allowing them to log in on a limited basis," Baumer said. "One participant described redirecting all email from Facebook to an email address that he never checked. Others installed browser plugins that blocked them from visiting the site."
The motivations for leaving were varied, from concerns about privacy and data misuse, to problems with productivity and addiction. Some respondents said they were tired of engaging in shallow or banal social interactions. Others left or suspended activity to avoid being friended by a boss, a student or former romantic partners, Baumer said.
"In some cases, people reported feeling pressured to leave based on an institutional status, such as being a military officer or parolee," he added.
There were also 75 people in the survey who reported never having an account.
"While some respondents reported simply not having a use for the site, others provided elaborate lists of reasons they would not join," Baumer said. "Some did not want to be on display or live 'life in a global aquarium.' We also observed a sense of rebelliousness and pride among those who resisted 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. It also provides some evidence that Facebook users who deactivate their account are more likely to know someone else who has also deactivated, and Baumer plans to further explore this potential network effect.
"Future work might examine whether models used to study the spread of technological innovations, infectious disease, or cultural memes might similarly help understand the social dynamics of technology non-use," he said.
The research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program.