HOW MUCH WOULD somebody have to pay you to disconnect your Facebook account? Our quick office survey suggested a Twirl and two packets of Quavers, rising to three if you include Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger in the list, but according to new research, we're very much in the minority.
A study from economists at Tufts, Kenyon College, Susquehanna University and Michigan State found that, on average, Facebook users would need to be paid over $1,000 to disconnect their Facebook account.
Obviously, Facebook is a free service, and nobody is actually offering money to leave, so how on Earth do you measure this? The answer is through a second-price auction. The researchers asked people to bid on the amount they would need to be paid to abandon Facebook, with the lowest-bidding winner needing to pay the second-lowest amount. The thinking behind that is to prevent a huge outlier from Facebook super haters.
In other words, if some jackass said "a Twirl and two packets of quavers", they'd actually be paid the next highest more sensible bid.
The study started as two separate papers investigating the same thing, but they eventually pooled resources and found exactly the same results across various groups. College students were prepared to accept an average of $4.17 to leave Facebook for a day, $13.89 for three days or $37 for a whole week.
Scale that up to a year, and it comes to between $1,511 and $1,908 - surprisingly close to a second version of the test which asked adults as well as students how much they'd need to be paid to leave for an entire year. Adults averaged $1,139 while the students demanded $2,076.
A final version was done on Amazon's Mechanical Turk platform, and the result was close again: $1,921 for a Facebook-free year.
And this wasn't just hypothetical, by the way: the researchers really did pay the winner to leave Facebook for a time. Sometimes the lowest bidders backed out at the last minute, and most of the time the bid was low enough not to raise eyebrows when claiming expenses, but the researchers told Ars Technica that they did have to pay somebody $1,000 to leave in one Facebook-fan heavy session.
"That was a rough day in the lab," said Sean Cash, one of the authors of the study, in an early bid for 2019's understatement of the year.
People's reasoning for their bids turned out to be quite rational. Those with a high price tended to require it for work reasons, while those who put in low offers tended to be considering leaving Facebook anyway and happy to consider any kind of financial inducement.
There's one important thing to take away from this: just because people would have to be paid over $1,000 to close their Facebook accounts for a year, doesn't mean that Facebook could charge anywhere near that amount for membership. If Facebook did start charging members, then the superfans would ultimately lose out as those indifferent to Zuckerberg's kingdom started peeling away.
No, what's really telling is that even after Facebook's unforgettably awful 2018, on average people still seem to love it. Privacy warts and all. µ
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