Kicking The Facebook Habit
September 17, 2013

Researchers Explore Reasons For ‘Virtual Identity Suicide’

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Privacy concerns and a tendency to battle internet addiction are among the reasons that an increasing number of people are committing “virtual identity suicide” and ceasing their social media use, according to new research appearing on the website of the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

Study authors Stefan Stieger, Christoph Burger, Manuel Bohn, and Martin Voracek of the University of Vienna School of Psychology compared more than 300 people who stopped using websites like Twitter and Facebook to roughly the same number of people who remained active using social media.

The researchers recorded each of their responses to assessment measures based on their level of concern over privacy, their tendencies to become addicted to the Internet, and personality traits such as extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. They found that those who stopped using social media were more concerned about privacy, had higher addiction scores, and tended to be more conscientious.

“Because personality traits were also correlated with privacy concerns and Internet addiction, it could be possible that personality traits influence the likelihood of quitting one's Facebook account indirectly via privacy concerns and Internet addiction,” the authors wrote. “In this case, the concern about one's privacy and Internet addiction propensity would not be directly in charge for quitting one's Facebook account, but would function as mediators of the underlying personality traits. To test this possibility, we used structural equation modeling.”

“We used a partial mediation model where personality traits have both direct and indirect effects on Facebook quitting, the latter being mediated by Internet addiction and privacy concerns,” they added. “The partial mediation model provided a moderate fit to the data… Regarding the hypothesis of an indirect effect of personality on Facebook quitting, the only significant effects we found were the direct and the total effect of conscientiousness. All other direct, indirect, and total effects of personality variables on Facebook quitting were not significant.”

In addition, the researchers discovered that compared to the sample of those using Facebook, those who kicked the habit were older on average and more likely to be male. Age was positively correlated with privacy concerns and negatively with Internet addiction, meaning that differences in the study outcomes could be confounded with age and gender differences between the social media users and the social media quitters, they added.

An analysis of the reasons given for quitting Facebook were analyzed, and five broad categories stood out amongst the others, the authors said. They included privacy and data protection issues, the feeling to getting addicted to or spending too much time using the service, negative aspects pertaining to Facebook friends themselves (social pressure to add friends, shallow conversations, etc.), general dissatisfaction with the social network itself, and various other issues such as a loss of interest, SPAM email or harassment.

“Since these categories were not mutually exclusive, we allowed for the possibility that each participant's written statement could be classified into more than one category,” they wrote. “Reasons for quitting Facebook were mainly privacy concerns (48.3 percent), followed by a general dissatisfaction with Facebook (13.5 percent), negative aspects of online friends (12.6 percent), and the feeling of getting addicted to Facebook (6.0 percent; other/unspecific, 19.6 percent). Categorization was done by two independent raters.”

“Given high profile stories such as WikiLeaks and the recent NSA surveillance reports, individual citizens are becoming increasingly more wary of cyber-related privacy concerns,” Brenda K. Wiederhold, Editor-in-Chief of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, said in a statement. “With photo tags, profiling, and internet dependency issues, research such as Professor Stieger's is very timely.”