The Facebook scandals didn't stop anyone from using Facebook

It turns out that social media is the bad boyfriend we refuse to dump for good. Despite a year of social media scandals and public skepticism, U...


It turns out that social media is the bad boyfriend we refuse to dump for good.

Despite a year of social media scandals and public skepticism, U.S. adults are still using Facebook and other social networking sites at the same rates that they were one year ago, a new Pew Research Center survey has found. That's in contrast to what Pew found in mid-2018: that people were taking measures to limit their social media use. Apparently, even if we say we want to quit Facebook, we're not actually pulling the plug.

Between Jan. 8 and Feb. 7, 2019, Pew surveyed a weighted, representative sample of 1,502 U.S. adults about their social media use. Many of their findings back up previous trends: younger demographics favor Instagram and Snapchat, while middle-aged and older adults are more regular users of Facebook.

The surprise, for researchers, came when the numbers showed that rates of Facebook and YouTube use were unchanged from a similar survey conducted in 2016.

"One of the most notable findings is just how little these figures have changed – not just in the last year, but going all the way back to 2016 or even 2015," Aaron Smith, associate director of research at Pew Research Center, told Mashable. "Despite all of the developments in the technological and media landscape over that time, the population as a whole seems to be fairly well-settled in its overall social preferences."

According to Pew's survey, 69 percent of U.S. adults use Facebook. Of all Facebook users, 74 percent visit the site every day, and half check Facebook several times a day. These numbers are identical to Pew's 2018 survey on the topic.

Similarly, 73 percent of U.S. adults use YouTube, and 51 percent of YouTube users visit YouTube every day. That's actually up from 2018's 46 percent daily use figure — never mind our growing awareness of how YouTube radicalizes its viewers and aids in the spread of conspiracy theories and other misinformation.

In March 2018, Google searches for the term "Delete Facebook" spiked to an all-time high. These searches coincided with New York Times and Guardian reports about Cambridge Analytica, and, subsequently, Facebook users' growing awareness of how the social network used (and allowed others to potentially manipulate) their personal data. Things only got worse afterwards.

Amidst Facebook's fall from grace, Pew conducted a survey in mid-2018 about social media users' habits. It found that 42 percent of Facebook users had "taken a break" from Facebook in the last year, and lots of users had taken steps to limit their relationship with the platform, such as deleting the app from their phone.

Now we know that, even if Facebook users intended to quit or limit their social media use, they didn't follow through.

This data also happens to jive with Facebook's monetary value. Facebook stock prices yoyo-ed in 2018 during its scandals. But those fluctuations were temporary. Facebook ended 2018 by posting record earnings ($6.9 billion), a 60 percent increase from 2017.

"Why do we stay?" is a longstanding question in any troubled relationship. Researchers can’t say for sure why skepticism of Facebook hasn’t translated into fewer users, but sheer force of habit may be playing a role.

"It’s worth noting that this is a fairly long-standing phenomenon," Smith said. "Despite broad concerns about the accuracy of news on social media, there has not been a decline in the share of Americans who get news there. And people continue to utilize these sites despite widespread concerns about their treatment of user privacy, or the fact that they are often a vehicle for harassment and abuse. We certainly find that many people make efforts to moderate their usage of various sites, but at the end of the day it seems that whatever benefits they receive often outweigh whatever concerns they might have."

In many bad relationships, the answer to "Why do they stay?" is often "I can change." Facebook has taken steps in recent months to improve issues like privacy and the spread of misinformation. Still, sharing and engaging with content, and targeting and clicking ads, comprises the existential DNA of the company — and is at the root of the company's scandals. Pew's numbers show that, even if we know better, it's harder to walk away than we thought.

Source: Mashable



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