It’s an annual tradition come early January — people everywhere pulling back from their resolutions, finding some wiggle room in the certainty of change that seemed so absolute only a week or two ago. You can be sure that one area of regression involves social media.
New research, in fact, supports that idea — specifically, the high value that consumers attach to Facebook, and the high cost it would take to make them leave the social media platform.
As the new year begins, 2019 promises to bring more than a few challenges to Facebook, given that it’s yet to dig itself out from controversies involving privacy, data security and data sharing. People are becoming more aware of spending too much time on social media — either arguing with strangers over politics, obsessively checking out memes or following other rabbit holes that take them away from their real-life relationships — and are learning more about how they are tracked, analyzed and sold to via all that data they give up for free Facebook access.
But that doesn’t mean consumers plan to leave Facebook anytime soon.
A new academic study entitled “How Much is Social Media Worth—Estimating the Value of Facebook by Paying Users to Stop Using That” found that it would cost at least $1,000 per year to persuade the average user to deactivate his or her Facebook account, and not return for 12 months. The study, from university researchers in the U.S., is based on the actions of 1,258 consumers who took part in auctions to determine the price it would take to get them to leave Facebook for a year. Participants were actually paid according to their bids (not all bids were for a full year; some covered shorter periods of time, such as one hour or one day), and then monitored as they deactivated their accounts, with researchers later checking that participants held to the agreement.
To give up Facebook for day, the average user, as measured by the study, would charge $4.17. Going without Facebook for a week would cost $37. While the average user would need about $1,000 to keep away from the social medial for a full year, auction results from the study found that some participants would need more than $2,000. (Some participants asked for $50,000, but researchers generally dismissed those bids as “protest bids.”)
According to the paper, its findings, “if applied to Facebook’s 214 million U.S. users, suggests an annual value of over $240 billion to users” for the social media platform. The study also reinforces the sense — backed by data — that despite Facebook’s apparent privacy and security concerns, and consumer concern about too much time being spent on social media, relatively few consumers will stop using it.
“Concerns about data privacy, such as Cambridge Analytica’s alleged problematic handling of users’ private information ... only underscore the value Facebook’s users must derive from the service,” the paper said. “Despite the parade of negative publicity surrounding the Cambridge Analytica revelations in mid-March 2018, Facebook added 70 million users between the end of 2017 and March 31, 2018 This implies the value users derive from the social network more than offsets the privacy concerns.”
Earlier this year, in fact, other research found that while 18 percent of users report using the service less, only 1 percent reported deleting their accounts. That said, some Facebook users appear to be thinking twice before posting. When asked why they were sharing less content on Facebook, 47 percent of surveyed Facebook users said privacy concerns were holding them back.
But Facebook and its peers and rivals are not necessarily off the hook.
The Facebook Cambridge Analytica breach and the knowledge that the company was selling private information to companies might mean that Congress will consider a version of the European Union’s General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR). Representative Will Hurd from Texas, the chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, told a room of people at the Aspen Cyber Summit in San Francisco that a proposing a version of GDPR was definitely possible.
Whether that really happens will be one of the more interesting stories of 2019. But for now, if you know people who are back on social media after resolving to stay away from it or at least slow down, maybe give them a break. It can take more than mere willpower to step away from Facebook.