Facebook non-use: An explorative study on practices and motivations

Sebastian Greger

A paper titled “Limiting, Leaving, and (re)Lapsing: an Exploration of Facebook Non-Use Practices and Experiences” by Eric P.S. Baumer et al., presented in May at CHI 2013 (slides), sheds some light on the practices of Facebook non-use and people’s experiences with them.

While the presented numbers on the prevalence of Facebook non-use are knowingly not representative (see this earlier post for some recent numbers by the Pew Research Center), the interesting core of the paper is in capturing forms and variations of non-engagement with the social network among the 410 respondents of the study.

Four groups of non-engagement

Looking at the participants’ accounts, the authors segment Facebook non-users into four main groups:

  • Resisting: People who do not have an account
  • Leaving: People who have disabled or deleted their account
  • (re)Lapsing: People who left Facebook but returned to use it later
  • Limiting: People employing various strategies to not use the service for a certain amount of time
Illustration of the four groups of non- or limited users on Facebook, and those affected as “left behind”.

Yet, in additon, the paper mentions a fifth group that surfaced in the research: The Left Behind. While not a non-user group per se, it is interesting to see the impact of non-use on the user show in the respondent’s answers: while those absent resist, leave, relapse or limit use, even those who are more regular users are affected by their non-engagement - one of the core proposition of my Absent Peer theory.


Practices and motivations

Looking more closely at why people do not use Facebook, Baumer et al. provide six “interpretive themes” by which the various motives for their observed forms of non-use behaviour can be categorised:

  • Privacy: fear or discomfort in terms of revealing information to contacts and unconctrolled access by others
  • Data use and misuse: concerns about Facebook owning and using their personal data
  • Banality: lack of interest in the shallow or meaningless interaction provided by the service
  • Productivity: loss of time available for work or school
  • Addiction: avoidance of use patterns experienced as addictive
  • External pressures: Quitting Facebook for external reasons (e.g. stalking, work, relationships)


Turning the discussion around

In addition to outlining how use and non-use are not states that can be clearly distinguished from each other, the article highlights the need to “deproblematise the non-user”: paying attention to non-use as meaningful in itself. This resonates well with Nick Selwyn’s (2003) critical description of a “pathological approach” to non-use, which shall be a topic of a later post on this blog.

Moreover, in their discussion, the authors even describe something like a “lagging resistance” to quit Facebook rather than the often-described “lagging adoption” of laggards who have not yet started to use a social network (for which the research described did not deliver much evidence).


The full paper is available for download on the corresponding author’s website.


Baumer, E. P. S., Adams, P., Khovanskaya, V. D., Liao, T. C., Smith, M. E., Schwanda Sosik, V., & Williams, K. (2013). Limiting, leaving, and (re)lapsing: an exploration of facebook non-use practices and experiences. In Proceedings of the 2013 ACM annual conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 3257–3266). New York, NY, USA: ACM. doi:10.1145/2470654.2466446 Selwyn, N. (2003). Apart from technology: understanding people’s non-use of information and communication technologies in everyday life. Technology in Society, 25(1), 99-116. doi:10.1016/S0160-791X(02)00062-3

I'm Sebastian, Sociologist and Interaction Designer. This journal is mostly about bringing toge­ther social science and design for inclusive, privacy-focused, and sustainable "human-first" digital strategies. I also tend to a "digital garden" with carefully curated resources.

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