It’s become a common refrain across social media: The need to quit “the app,” to deactivate, to step away from hours of scrolling. The trend has built steadily over the course of the year on the back of ever-mounting privacy scandals, which reached a crescendo on Tuesday night after the New York Times reported Facebook let partners like Spotify and Amazon snoop into personal data without user’s permission.
This latest scandal seems to have a lot more people thinking about jumping ship, at least according to Google queries, which show a more than 1,250 percent spike in searches containing the words “how to delete facebook account 2018.” Throughout the year, the big question that’s emerged is what, at this point, would it take to get people to actually start quitting? Fortunately a new study has answers, not only about Facebook but about how people assign value to free products.
‘What happens when you’re dealing with access to a good for free?” Jay Corrigan, an economics professor at Kenyon College and lead author, tells Inverse. “What if we paid them to stop using the service they already have access for?”
How Much You Have to Pay to Get Someone to Quit Facebook
In the study published today in PLOS ONE, researchers at the University of Michigan, Tufts University and Kenyon College in Ohio say they’ve calculated the potential cost of leaving Facebook - that is, what existing users feel they’d need to be paid in order to deactivate their accounts - based on a series of auctions. In each auction, groups of people or individuals offered bids for an acceptable payment to get them to deactivate Facebook. Participants got real money when they showed proof.
The price tag? An average of $1,000, enough to give new meaning to the GoodFellas-line-turned-Millennial-addage, “F*ck you, pay me.” Corrigan says he’s experimented in the past with auctions as a way to estimate what items like e-cigarettes and GMOs are worth to people. Auctions are an ideal place to assess perceptions about worth, because the people participating face real financial consequences for their decision-making.
Facebook also proved an ideal model to test how much people will pay for the feeling of being “plugged in,” so to speak. The most popular social platform in the world, with over 2 billion users across the globe, Facebook has led the charge in social media adoption (and addiction) since 2004. You can use its constellation of apps for mundane posts, but for messaging, image sharing, live-streaming, and even sending one-another money.
Why People Won’t Quit Facebook
When the researchers pooled their findings, they were surpirsed not only at the value users seemed to place on Facebook, but at the discrepancy between actual user value and how shareholders value it. The researchers estimate that to Facebook stockholders, for example, your value as a Facebook user is somewhere under $200.
“As valuable as it is to shareholders, it’s more valuable to actual users,” explains Corrigan.
Corrigan says he suspects Facebook has conducted similar research measuring the value of their platform to users. But there’s no real way to capitalize on those numbers, says Corrigan, who has not been in touch with FB. Sure, people may be willing to name a price for deactivating their accounts. But if Facebook were to charge a similar price - or any price, for that matter - people would almost certainly turn to another platform like MySpace. Alternatives may not be as much of a centralized, popular hub, but they’re free.
And of course, all of this data was collected before this latest scandal. $1,000 is certainly a lot of money to most people. But it’s also a price people were willing to pay for a service that, while it wasn’t perfectly above-board privacy wise, at least seemed to be cleaning up its act.