The researchers held three auctions for the study. Winners were paid to deactivate their accounts for as briefly as an hour or as long as a year. Participants didn't have to give up other apps in the Facebook network, such as Messenger and Instagram.
The participants are not a perfect representation of Facebook users overall, the researchers note. Two of the auctions were in-person and consisted of samples of college students and non-student community members. The other auction was online. If the researchers had done a hypothetical survey instead, it could have been more representative, but then there wouldn't have been real money on the line.
"Auction participants faced real financial consequences, so had an incentive to seriously consider what compensation they would want to close their accounts for a set period of time and to bid truthfully," co-author Sean B. Cash, an economist at Tufts University, said in a press release.
Participants in this experiment seemed to value Facebook highly, but the study doesn't examine what about it they value. The social network offers ways to stay in touch with friends, plan and discover events, share photos and more.
There's also evidence to suggest that social media can make you less productive, more insecure and, ironically, less social. "Just because we spend a lot of time on social media doesn't necessarily mean that it's good for us," Corrigan says.
In 2017, former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya said he believes the company "overwhelmingly does good in the world" but, he noted, his children "aren't allowed to use that s---."
Some Facebook users who are aware of the downsides are trying to wean themselves off of the platform. "I know from talking to some of people who won our auctions and were paid to deactivate their accounts that they thought of it as a way to force themselves to go on a social media diet," Corrigan says, "either because they knew they needed to spend less time online or because they just wanted to see if they could do it."
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