opting out of social media


Lately I've been thinking--and reading--a lot about people who choose to out of online social networking tools. The question of who chooses not to engage on sites like Facebook--and why they choose that--was posed to me by a close friend who has mostly lived his life on the opposite side of the social media spectrum from me. Where I have created an account on every system I've encountered, and very much lived my life in public through these tools over the past ten years, he has made only occasional and somewhat reluctant forays into online social spaces...and he was curious about what the causes (and consequences) of those different choices were.

I've been mulling that question over since he posed it back in the spring, and I keep seeing things pop up in blogs and news stories that relate to it. There was Alice Marwick's excellent essay ('If you don't like it, don't use it. It's that simple.' ORLY?) on the impact of opting out of Facebook when your social network is based there. And Jenna Wortham's NYTimes article on 'The Facebook Resisters' last month.

Alice talked in her article about the concept of "technology refusal," but I've found that there seems to be precious little out there in the way of research on this topic. The term itself is used in the context of other educational technologies in an essay by Steve Hodas called "Technology refusal and the organizational culture of schools" from Rob Kling's 1996 collection Computerization and Controversy, but I can't find much that links that essay with anything related to current social networking sites.

It seems to me there are a lot of interesting research questions in this. What are the reasons that people choose to opt out? Does the opting out tend to be global, or specific to individual systems? (For instance, do people who opt out of Facebook also opt out of Twitter? LinkedIn? Tumblr?) Is this more about personality or cognitive type, or about context and experience? Are these fairly static stances, or changeable? And if the latter, what precipitates the change? What's the impact on an individual who opts out when their social and/or professional network opts in?

In fact, there's so much that's interesting, and so little that seems to be out there, that it's all a little overwhelming. I've started a Zotero collection on the topic of "technology refusal," and would welcome any suggestions for things to add to it. (If there's interest, I'm willing to convert it to a group library that others could add to...)

Anyone know of work currently ongoing in this space? I'd love to talk with others who are exploring it!


Good luck researching this! I'd love to better understand the psyché of social users, many of whom are my clients. I still get a lot of requests to build a "social networking presence" as part of building a new website, even thought the client has no idea what that means. (When that's the case, I usually talk them out of it.)

As for me, I've convinced myself that, as an IT professional, people expect me to know something about everything, so I justify the time *I* spend on every popular social network, just so I can be "that guy." Really, I just like to play.

Maybe part of me doesn't want to be left out. Back when LinkedIn was just getting started, I jumped-in because all the cool kids at RIT were creating accounts there. So I did too. But honestly, I never saw the value of it until years later. And now I boast how I was an early adopter.

Same thing with Google+. I jumped in early. (Blessed with an invitation, no less!) However, even though I quickly maxed out with the Google+/Facebook overlap, and I haven't logged-in to Google+ in weeks, I'll still hold on to the account ...just in case I need that swagger.

I've tried really hard to keep going on Foursquare, but it's wearing me down. Honestly, it only reminds me how much other people have a "real" social life, and I don't. :o)

Good luck!

This exact question came up during our team meeting today at Project Zero, and I agree that this is an important question to start studying. I would particularly likely to see data of account deactivation/deletion mapped out like an information cascade to see how it precipitates over time. Were the early droppers also early adopters? Does the social network propagation of deletion behavior look the same as or different than that of adoption? Methodologically, we would need to determine if we should also count account abandonment alongside deactivation/deletion, especially since that seemed to be the trend during previous social network deaths like Friendster and MySpace.

I love that you're blogging again, Liz! I'm determined to get back into blogging, too, for much the same reasons as you. I also find that periods where I'm active blogging are the periods of time where I love my job and get excited about new ideas and connections. For me, the discipline of not only coming across interesting finds but also formulating a blog post with links and some kind of opinion about it all is really important. I guess we've known that blogging works like that for many years, but I don't think I'd really linked it to ENJOYING research before.

I've also been interested in all the reports of technology refusal out there. In my class last semester only one of 38 students was not on Facebook, and he had very strong, reasoned ideological arguments for his absence. On the other hand, those of my not-very-digital friends who aren't on Facebook and so forth seem to have very instinctive gut reactions against it, often labelled as a dislike of over-sharing and narcissism, which are certainly criticisms of social media that come up often in the media (at least here in Norway, I'm not even sure if that's a global issue?)

I've seen various research on the rejection of technology in general, but never really looked at it. I think "non-adopters" is a frequently used term?

Anyway, thanks for blogging - I look forwards to being blogging buddies again :)

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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on January 3, 2012 6:52 PM.

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