The people who threaten to quit social media

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Social media, as a whole internet-worth of studies and anecdotes have shown, is the mental health equivalent of bingeing on high fructose corn syrup enriched with trans fats.

Using Facebook and other social media platforms has been linked to everything from relationship jealousy when you send a friend request (or even accept one), to debilitating cases of FOMO (Fear of missing out).  

It’s not surprising, then, that in a recent study by researchers at the University of Vienna it was found that Facebook users are having second thoughts about their online networking.

Published in Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, the study found that almost half of current Facebook users surveyed said they’d previously considered quitting the site.

The researchers examined whether there is any difference between Facebook quitters and those who slavishly keep coming back for more.

And it turns out there is. Those most likely to quit Facebook are men who are slightly older than the average Facebook user (31 years of age versus 24-years-olds).

They are also slightly more likely to engage in online addictive behaviours, and have considerably fewer Facebook friends than is the norm (133 compared to the stayers who have 300+). They also tend to be more concerned about privacy. 

While the study results paint a rather blurry profile, the trend of quitting social media (or at least the act of threatening to leave it) has become so mainstream that it even has a name: ‘Virtual Identity Suicide’ or ‘Web 2.0 Suicide’.

Applications have been devised to help speed up the process of social media suicide, such as the The Suicide Machine and Seppukoo. (Both are now defunct which suggests that they took this whole digital death thing a little too far).

There have also been a number of campaigns over recent years to encourage a mass exodus from social media. The people behind Quit Facebook Day Facebook page claims that it has promoted 40 thousand users to quit in three years. This sounds impressive, until you consider that Facebook has 1.15 billion monthly active users.

Then there was Caitlin Moran's recent call for ‘all self-proclaimed pleasant people’ to take a 24-hour Twitter hiatus as a reaction against online trolls. Some considered the #twittersilence well-meaning while others scoffed at the enormous ‘sacrifice’ of not using your iPhone for a day. Either way, it would be difficult to argue that it achieved anything except generating virtual pats on the back for the boycotters.

Threatening Virtual Identity Suicide — or committing it and then quickly resurrecting yourself — is very in right now. Lady Gaga seems to excel at it, but it’s easy to see why ordinary folk — those with less than 40 million followers, for example — are just as tempted. 

Aside from wanting a break from the abuse and rape threats, or the risk of embarrassment and reputational ruin from impulsive and inappropriate tweets or status updates, nothing gets you social media attention like threatening to leave it.   

A recent article in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction looked at why some of us just can't seem to stay away for long. The study found that Facebook and other social media platforms fulfil a range of psychological needs, including narcissistic drives, such as exhibitionism and the need to be at the centre of others’ attention.

But other researchers found that personality simply wasn’t an important factor in Facebook use. It turns out that people use social networks for reasons that you don’t need a PhD to guess at: keeping up with friends, a desire to meet new people and perhaps most importantly — to kill boredom. 

And it’s these more mundane reasons that will ensure the survival of social media. That’s not to say that platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will be with us forever. No doubt, they will, in time, go the way of Friendster. But their demise is more likely to be linked to their replacement by other services rather than mass Virtual Identity Suicide.

 

 

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com

 

12 comments

  • Good for people to use social media if it floats their boat and good to not use it if that floats your boat. I float my boat in the water. Face ache bores me stupid so that's why I don't partake but who gives a shit if you are a non user such as myself or a user, do what you want people.

    Commenter
    2shoes
    Date and time
    October 02, 2013, 9:21AM
    • I would surmise that those most likely to announce "I'm quitting facebook" are those least likely to stick with the decision and sooner or later come back, filling my news feed with their attention seeking posts.

      Any person that really wants to quit facebook wont bother announcing it and will just go ahead and remove their profile.

      Personally i don't understand what all the fuss is about and all these constant articles "is facebook bad for you" "are you addicted to facebook" "does facebook cause depression" etc and so forth.

      Depressed people will find depression anywhere. That is because they have a condition which needs to be treated through counselling.

      Facebook itself is a tool, like a hammer or saw. When used correctly it can be useful and fulfilling. When used incorrectly it can cause harm to the user or others. Facebook itself is not inherently evil.

      People need to come to terms with that.

      Commenter
      Adrian
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 02, 2013, 9:41AM
      • "Facebook itself is a tool, like a hammer or saw. When used correctly it can be useful and fulfilling. When used incorrectly it can cause harm to the user or others. Facebook itself is not inherently evil."
        Fantastic statement, and absolutely agree with the sentiment.
        You could replace 'Facebook' with almost any issue considered to be destroying society, and the message would remain the same.

        Commenter
        Markus
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        October 02, 2013, 11:42AM
      • That's true - the demonisation of Facebook is just another example of the supposedly helpless masses refusing to take responsibility for the way they choose to use social media.

        Commenter
        Mellah
        Date and time
        October 02, 2013, 12:11PM
    • After several failed attempts, I've been free (or clean) from Facebook for well over a year now. Some people thought I'd lost my mind or was having a breakdown of some sort, but I'd always quietly loathed its pervasive intrusion into my life and the feeling of being forced to share intimate details of my life with people I hardly knew.

      When I left I had 350+ 'friends' but in reality I had six dear friends, true friends. They're still my friends and I'm still very sociable and I never miss out on party invites or gatherings. One great perk of leaving Facebook is the look of total confusion on people's faces when they offer to 'friend' me and I say I'm not on Facebook. One guy even said to me, 'Don't you have any friends?' I told him I have six.

      Commenter
      Jessica
      Location
      Mosman
      Date and time
      October 02, 2013, 9:51AM
      • Good on you, and it's worth remembering that a true friend will stay in touch in real life if they can't connect with you online. I've wasted time trying to maintain friendships online that weren't real to begin with.

        Commenter
        Mellah
        Date and time
        October 02, 2013, 12:09PM
    • Facebook is used to counteract boredom? Really? Personally, I prefer a good book, a DVD or catching up with friends for coffee. Those people who are bored with life and turn to FB to relieve it are numpties who don't realise there's a whole world out there with interesting things to see and do. Whether social media goes or stays makes no difference to me. But I bet Mark Zuckerberg won't be too happy to see his squillions vanish!

      Commenter
      Audra Blue
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      October 02, 2013, 10:17AM
      • Interestingly, I was out with friends for an early dinner on Sunday night (we were conversing with each other), and there was a group of young blokes in their early 20s sitting there, spending most of the time glued to their respective phones.

        Yes, I am judging, but it was quite humorous to see these guys "together" without saying a thing to each other.

        Commenter
        Public Joe
        Date and time
        October 02, 2013, 10:53AM
      • "Really? Personally, I prefer a good book, a DVD or catching up with friends for coffee"

        You know the two key words in that sentence?

        'I prefer'.

        Thinking less of someone purely based on comparing your own preferences to your interpretation of their preferences is one of the sillier things people do.

        Think of it this way. Not too long ago, many people would have said exactly the same thing about you watching DVDs - they would 'rot your brain', since they are part of the movement towards passively watching TV rather than sitting around as a family listening to the wireless.

        Commenter
        DM
        Date and time
        October 02, 2013, 3:44PM
      • I'm with DM on this. It is all about the individual's right to choose. To call others numpties for their choices makes you sound conceited.

        Commenter
        ArkM
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        October 02, 2013, 5:40PM

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