Kicking the habit: 27% of Facebook users to cut back

Facebook has become a bad habit we need to rein in. Among younger users, 1 in 3 plans to cut back.

Technology trends and news by Faith Merino
February 5, 2013
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I’m thinking of taking a break from Facebook. Somehow, over the last year, my newsfeed became overrun with Republican conspiracy theories. I think it’s because I friended a few extended family members who also happen to be hardcore Tea Partiers—because I thought we could put politics aside and find common public figures to make fun of. So…lesson learned.

It turns out, lots of people have to take breaks from Facebook every once in a while. Usually, it’s because of some work/school deadline that they need to focus on. A new report released Tuesday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project reveals that fully 61% of Facebook users have voluntarily taken a break from the site at some point. Of the one-third of online American adults who do not use Facebook, 20% say that they used to at some time but stopped.

The reasons for wanting to get some space from Facebook are not surprising. Most people have shit to do. More than 20% of those who have taken a break from Facebook said they did so because they were too busy or didn’t have time for it. Another 10% said that it was a waste of time and the content just wasn’t relevant.

What is surprising is how few people said that privacy concerns prompted their break. Only 4% of respondents said they backed off from Facebook over the privacy issue, compared to 6% of people who literally said they took a break from Facebook “just because.”

Among other reasons listed were too much drama (9%), was spending too much time on the site (8%), just got tired of it (7%), and more.

Interestingly, while more people are using Facebook than ever before (69% of online adults, compared to 47% in September 2009), a large chunk of users (27%) say they plan to spend less time on the site in the coming year. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, as many as 38% say they plan to cut back, compared to 26% of those ages 30-49, and 17% of those over 50.

“These data show that people are trying to make new calibrations in their life to accommodate new social tools,” said Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet Project and a co-author of the new report, in a statement. “For some, the central calculation is how they spend their time. For others, it’s more of a social reckoning as they ask themselves, ‘What are my friends doing and thinking and how much does that matter to me?’ They are adding up the pluses and minuses on a kind of networking balance sheet and they are trying to figure out how much they get out of connectivity vs. how much they put into it.”

Either way, if Facebook’s main user demographic is 18- to 29-year-olds, and more than one-in-three say they plan to cut back on their Facebook usage in the coming year, that doesn’t bode well for Facebook or its shareholders. 

Rainie says that this is the first time Pew researchers have asked that question, so it's not clear whether this is a trend or just some New Year's resolutions that won't pan out. 

On the flip side, it points to the addictive nature of the site. Users now spend so much time on the site that it's become a bad habit that they need to kick. How many other sites can say that? 


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