September 5, 2018 at 10:42 AM
Nearly three-quarters of American Facebook users have changed how they use the social media app in the past year, following a barrage of scandals involving the abuse of personal data, foreign interference in U.S. elections and the spread of hateful or harassing content on the platform.
The findings were released Wednesday in a new survey by the Pew Research Center the same day that Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is testifying before a Senate panel hearing to discuss how the company is combating foreign interference on the platform similar to Russian-tied efforts seen during the 2016 election.
The survey revealed that 74 percent of U.S. adult Facebook users have taken one of the following actions: changed their privacy settings, taken a break from the app or deleted it altogether.
Pew found that more than 1 in 4 Americans have deleted the app from their phones. Fifty-four percent tweaked their privacy settings, and 42 percent stopped using the app for several weeks or longer. Those interventions were also much more likely to have been taken by younger people, who outpaced older users in each of the three actions. For instance, 64 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds changed their privacy settings in the past year, compared with 33 percent of people aged 65 and older.
Pew conducted the research between May 29 and June 11, surveying 4,594 people.
Facebook said in a statement to The Washington Post that users manage their information through the app's privacy controls every day. “Over recent months we have made our policies clearer, our privacy settings easier to find and introduced better tools for people to access, download, and delete their information. We’ve also run education campaigns on and off Facebook to help people around the world better understand how to manage their information on Facebook.”
While the survey suggests large portions of Americans are abandoning the platform or scaling back their usage, Facebook reported stable daily active user numbers in its most recent earnings report. Analysts have said, however, that the company may face challenges in acquiring new users in mature markets such as the United States and Europe. Facebook said that 185 million users are on the platform in the United States and Canada every day, unchanged from last quarter. Most of Facebook's user growth now comes from Asia.
Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst at eMarketer, said that the survey rings true with the public backlash over Facebook's data privacy scandals and with continued concerns over false news reports, election interference and negativity on the platform.
“It does show that consumers have a heightened awareness of privacy and how social media companies use their data. People are getting fed up with the idea that they may not have as much control as they think they do,” she said. “There is an undercurrent of people feeling like they are not sure social media is positive for them and if it is a good use of their time."
Williamson noted that other research has not supported the case that Facebook is shedding users and that it's possible users who have shunned the app later returned to it.
"Surveys are a good barometer of how people are feeling, but at the end of the day, it's really hard to let go completely,” she said. “If you take a break, you feel like you missed something."