Most People Will Quit Facebook for $1,000

A new study shows how much cash it would take to get people off Facebook for as long as one year.

Dec 20 2018, 3:48pm

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Nothing in life is truly free. If you’re not paying to use a social platform in dollars, then you’re almost definitely paying for it with your personal data—a truism that’s never been more clear than this year, as damning reports around Facebook’s data sharing practices revealed how the platform abused its privacy privileges.

There’s been a movement recently to #deleteFacebook, but it seems to be a minority of the platform’s 2.2 billion monthly active users. If not all of this year’s scandal, what would it take to get people off Facebook? Apparently, most users wouldn’t log off for even a year for less than $1,000 in cold, hard cash.

Since Facebook is “free,” it’s hard to place a number on what it’s worth to users. A group of researchers sought to answer the question: Exactly how valuable is Facebook to its users, when we’re talking money?

The researchers—Jay R. Corrigan, Saleem Alhabash Matthew Rousu, and Sean Cash, each from a different US university—published their study in the journal PLOS One yesterday. They enlisted 1,258 volunteers to participate in auctions to bid for the chance to get paid to deactivate for a certain duration. To get a payout, they had to show proof that they’d deactivated their account. The participants consisted of two groups of college students, a non-student community sample, and a group recruited using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

The researchers found that people, on average, were willing to deactivate for an hour if they were given about a dollar. They’d go without Facebook for one day for around six bucks, three days for $15.73, and a week for around $40. According to the researchers, this shows how the value of what Facebook has essentially monopolized—connecting to friends and family, for example—outweighs even dire privacy concerns, at least for now.

“Part of the reason people stay on Facebook, despite real concerns about how it’s used or misused, is quite simply, we still get a lot of joy from it,” Sean Cash, a researcher on the study from Tufts University, told Technology Review. “You might have over a decade of photos, you might use it to organize study groups … someone in their 20s could have been on Facebook all of their adult life.”

Facebook’s tentacles—like most Big Tech companies—are wrapped around so many aspects of our lives that it’s become valuable in intangible ways, like connection to friends and family. Putting a price on that is hard. Mark Zuckerberg’s social network has weaseled its way into monopolizing our online lives by taking advantage of our human tendencies, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to resist.

If you’re thinking that you don’t need anybody to bribe you to get off of a platform that regularly abuses your privacy, there are steps you can take now. You could start your own website, poison your Facebook data, or unplug from it altogether.