In 2014 Merijn Straathof, an art director at a Dutch advertising firm, wanted to see if he could stay off Facebook for 99 days. After describing the plan to his colleagues, they, too, decided to share this commitment. The idea was so popular that the entire firm launched a campaign called “99 Days of Freedom”. At the onset of the campaign, over 40,000 people had taken the pledge. Participants were asked to fill out a survey after 33, 66, and 99 days. The research paper, “Missing Photos, Suffering Withdrawal, or Finding Freedom? How Experiences of Social Media Non-Use Influence the Likelihood of Reversion” (2015) examines the responses from these surveys. The paper specifically observes what factors cause people to return to Facebook and why.
The animations below highlight three specific sections from this research paper. These visualizations show the overall survey responses and explore which factors predict increased or decreased likelihood of returning to Facebook.
Across the three surveys, about one fifth of people returned to Facebook before 99 days were over.
It is clear that experiences relating to perceived addiction, such as withdrawal and limited self-control show an increased likelihood of returning to Facebook. Additionally, it is important to note that that participants who felt surveilled, manipulated, closed, or judged when it came to their relationship with Facebook were less likely to revert. Whereas, those who were concerned with impression management were more likely to revert in order to control their online image. All of these factors directly effect user’s relationships with social media. It is clear that the people who felt self-conscious about and felt a need to manage their online presence are the ones who ultimately struggle with abstaining from social media.
Overall, we find that the topics respondents use to describe their experiences effectively serve as significant predictors for reversion, several of which resonate with themes from the previous two analyses. For example, at Day 33, those who described feelings of perceived addiction, seen in the Withdrawal topic were 37.8% more likely to end up returning to the site. We also see a near-significant effect where those who said that “nothing bad happened” were 15% less likely to revert. At Day 66, those who talked about using other social media showed a 44.7% increase in likelihood of reversion. Interestingly, those who talked about missing out on events were 31.5% less likely to revert.
Throughout this study there are four recurrent themes that influence the likelihood of returning to Facebook; Experiences consistent with perceived addiction (e.g. withdrawal, compulsive urges) indicate an increased likelihood of reversion. Secondly, we observe the individuals relationship with Facebook and what boundaries they have with it. On one hand, those who felt surveilled, manipulated, or judged on Facebook were less likely to return, but those who focused on impression management were more likely to return. Positive moods decreased the likelihood of reversion, while negative moods increased likelihood of reversion. Finally, respondents who replaced Facebook with other social media were less likely to revert unless they reflected upon and renegotiated their use of Facebook.
As shown above, this research allows us to identify and understand how individual traits of users and their experience with social media non-use play a role in affecting their likelihood of reversion.
Finally, this article suggests an important direction for future work. This work demonstrates that this is a fruitful area of inquiry and is a stepping stone in advancing our understanding of experiences around use and non-use of social technologies.