It seems these days that people who don’t have a Facebook account are now considered the minority – and not in a good way. I don’t know about everyone else, but I still remember the time when I had a Myspace account (anyone remember Myspace?) Then a few years back, a couple of my friends mentioned this cool new social networking site called “Facebook” and insisted that I join them on there. Like an old lady set in her ways, I resisted. I’d already dedicated a few years to Myspace; I had a lot of friends on there, I’d posted numerous bulletins, I’d uploaded countless pictures, I’d selected a pretty background and had a cute song that would automatically start playing every time someone went on to my page – therefore, the idea of having to start all over again sounded tiring and unnecessary.
Then one day, I cracked. Curiosity got the best of me and on a whim, I signed up for a free Facebook account. But I had no plans of committing. In my mind, I was just taking it for a test drive. I figured I’d see what all the fuss was about, maybe look up a friend or two for fun, then never use it again. Next thing I knew, my virtual world was suddenly being inundated with pokes, likes, Farmville requests and someone even gifted me a cupcake (although it was a sweet gesture, it seemed pointless since I couldn’t eat it or do anything with it at all). Then my friends list went from five people to fifty, then from fifty to two-hundred. It started being less about Myspace and Tom and more about Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. Then before I knew it, I had deleted my Myspace account without an ounce of sadness and became a full-time Facebooker. And that was that.
Just the other day, I read an interesting article on NBC News that mentioned a scary prediction made by researchers at Princeton University: Facebook will undergo a rapid decline, losing 80 percent of its users by 2017. The researchers conducted a study by looking at Google Trends date for Myspace and Facebook, using the former to predict the latter’s demise. The premise of their argument is based on the concept that social networks, like the spread of ideas, can be studied like the life cycle of epidemics. They modified the traditional SIR (Susceptible, Infectious and Removed) model of disease spread and discovered an analogy between viral infection and social network adoption, along with disease recovery and abandonment of a social network.
While Facebook has argued against the Princeton researchers’ finds, they have acknowledged in their most recent earnings report that it has noticed decreased activity amongst teenagers. A recent study conducted by iStrategy Labs showed that in the past three years, Facebook lost 3.3 million teenagers, as well as 3.4 million 18 to 24-year-olds. So why are people leaving and where are they going?
Some people blame it on the fact that the company went public, leading to more ads and regulations. Others blame it on the privacy clauses that are constantly changing. But besides those obvious factors, researchers have come up with several other motives. For one, Facebook makes us feel badly about ourselves. According to University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Catalina Toma and Cornell University professor Jeffrey Hancock, “Facebook is not just about checking out photos and updates from friends, but more about checking up on how others view you.” Users get gratification from others “liking” and commenting on their posts, so when they don’t get the feedback they’re expecting or looking for, it makes them feel less valuable.
Second, Facebook makes us envious. A study conducted by two German universities concluded that Facebook makes users feel less content with their lives, causing them to want what others have. Reuters reporter Belinda Goldsmith, who wrote about the study in one of her articles, pointed out, “Researchers found that one in three people felt worse after visiting the site and more dissatisfied with their lives, while people who browsed without contributing were affected the most.”
Other reasons include the fact that Facebook makes people sad due to the fact that their personal lives don’t measure up to their carefully crafted virtual presence, in addition to Facebook being a tedious distraction that is like a smoking addiction to users, who feel the need to check their phones and refresh their pages every six-and-a-half minutes.
So where are people choosing to spend their time when not on Facebook? Instagram, WeChat, Vine and Snapchat are some of the more popular social networking alternatives that people are turning to, according to the latest research from GlobalWebIndex. There has been a definitive shift to mobile apps in general, as more people are on the go these days and prefer social networking that fits into their lifestyle as opposed to sitting down for hours in front of their computers.
So if these predictions do have some truth to them and Facebook ultimately meets its demise, what’s next? Will people return to the revamped Myspace, which Justin Timberlake jointly purchased? Will there be another social networking site that will triumph both of them? Or will we have reached a point when we’re just over social networking sites in general?
Only time will tell.