Addicted to Facebook—why we keep returning

December 11, 2015 by Louis Dipietro, Cornell University

Admit it, you've thought about walking away from Facebook at one time or another. Perhaps you've gone so far as to shut down your account, swearing never to return, only to meekly log back in a week later.

What are some of the factors that prevent users from logging off of Facebook permanently? A newly published paper from Cornell Information Science researchers explores that question and points to four themes that significantly influence the likelihood of a return to Facebook. Written by Information Science and Communication Researcher Eric Baumer, along with Ph.D. student Shion Guha, Emily Quan, MPS '15, and professors David Mimno and Geri Gay, "How Social Media Non-use Influences the Likelihood of Reversion: Perceived Addiction, Boundary Negotiation, Subjective Mood, and Social Connection" was published Dec. 3 in Social Media + Society.

If you have thought about leaving Facebook, you're not alone. Popular media and academic researchers alike have recently become interested in people who don't use technology. This includes people who intentionally avoid social media like Facebook, as well as those who simply don't have access. In many cases, though, there's not a clear split between users and nonusers. People who leave social media and then return, what Baumer and colleagues term "social media reversion," provide the opportunity to understand better what's at stake when people use – or don't use – sites like Facebook.

Using survey data provided by – an online campaign that encouraged participants to log off Facebook for 99 days – the Cornell researchers honed in on those who made the pledge but ultimately couldn't resist the allure of Facebook's social network. The group's research found four main factors that led to reversion:

  • Perceived addiction – Those who feel that Facebook is addictive or habitual were more likely to return, according to the group's research. One participant described this habitual aspect by saying, "In the first 10 days, whenever I opened up an internet browser, my fingers would automatically go to 'f.'"
  • Privacy and surveillance – Users who felt their Facebook activity was being monitored were less likely to revert, while those who use Facebook largely to manage how other people think of them are more likely to log back in.
  • Subjective mood – In a good mood? You're less likely to renege on your pledge to stay off Facebook.
  • Other social media – The group found that Facebook users were less likely to log back in if they had other social media outlets – like Twitter, for instance. Those who reflected on the appropriate role for technology in their social lives were more likely to revert. In many of these cases, people returned to Facebook but altered their use, for example, uninstalling the app from their phones, reducing their number of friends or limiting the amount of time spent on the platform.

The team's findings were drawn from more than 5,000 surveys issued to participants by Just, the Dutch creative agency that founded the 99 Days of Freedom project. These surveys were sent to project participants on days 33, 66 and 99 and were intended to gauge each user's mood throughout the Facebook detox. A sampling of this data was then shared – with permission from Just and the survey respondents – with the Cornell research team.

"These results show just how difficult daily decisions about social media use can be," says Baumer. "In addition to concerns over personal addiction, people are reluctant about corporations collecting, analyzing and potentially monetizing their personal information. However, Facebook also serves numerous important social functions, in some cases providing the only means for certain groups to keep in touch. These results highlight the complexities involved in people's ongoing decisions about how to use, or not use, ."

Explore further: Facebook to block access to non-members in Belgium

More information: E. P. S. Baumer et al. Missing Photos, Suffering Withdrawal, or Finding Freedom? How Experiences of Social Media Non-Use Influence the Likelihood of Reversion, Social Media + Society (2015). DOI: 10.1177/2056305115614851

Related Stories

Facebook to block access to non-members in Belgium

December 2, 2015

Facebook on Wednesday said it would block access to its website by non-members in Belgium, as it battles a court order to stop tracking Internet users who do not have accounts with the US social media giant.

For a happier life, give up Facebook, study says

November 10, 2015

Always envious? Got a non-existent social life and struggle to concentrate? All this might be down to Facebook if you believe a study showing those who go a week without using the social network feel happier than others.

Recommended for you

Cryptocurrency rivals snap at Bitcoin's heels

January 14, 2018

Bitcoin may be the most famous cryptocurrency but, despite a dizzying rise, it's not the most lucrative one and far from alone in a universe that counts 1,400 rivals, and counting.

Top takeaways from Consumers Electronics Show

January 13, 2018

The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, which concluded Friday in Las Vegas, drew some 4,000 exhibitors from dozens of countries and more than 170,000 attendees, showcased some of the latest from the technology world.

Finnish firm detects new Intel security flaw

January 12, 2018

A new security flaw has been found in Intel hardware which could enable hackers to access corporate laptops remotely, Finnish cybersecurity specialist F-Secure said on Friday.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.