Everybody hates Facebook these days. At least, that's how it may seem to the untrained eye. Ordinary people, celebrities and even Elon Musk are taking to non-Facebook social media to announce their intention to #DeleteFacebook. That hashtag has been tweeted more than 400,000 times in the past 30 days. Not surprisingly, all this bad news has spooked the investment community, resulting in Facebook's total value dropping $58 billion in a single week. 

It would be logical to think that people are abandoning Facebook out of anger over the 50 million users' whose data was harvested by Cambridge Analytica without their consent, or the fact that Facebook has been tracking their phone calls and texts for years and still hasn't explained why or what it plans to do with that data. 

But while it might be logical to think that, it wouldn't be true. As marketing expert Simon Kemp explains, if you actually look at the data on Facebook usage what you see is the opposite. In the United States and United Kingdom, where the #DeleteFacebook hashtag has seen the most play, the number of monthly active has grown by more than 4 percent in the last 90 days. To be precise, it's up 4.3 percent in the U.S. and 4.5 percent in the U.K. In India, where the #DeleteFacebook hashtag has also gotten a fair amount of traction with 30,000 tweets, monthly active users are up a whopping 12 percent in those same three months. 

These numbers were compiled by Kemp's Singapore-based marketing company Kepios, from reports by We Are Social and HootSuite, along with Facebook itself. Ultimately, no one but Facebook really knows how many active users Facebook has, so to accept these numbers you have to rely on Facebook to be truthful about its own traffic. But Kemp notes that other independent statistics make their truthfulness seem likely. For instance, statistics from the App analytic company App Annie show that the number of downloads for the Facebook app did drop briefly in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal but quickly returned to their usual levels.

Can't live with it, can't live without it.

I'm willing to believe Facebook's stats about its number of users because, frankly, they make sense. It's just not so simple to delete something that has become an everyday form of communication for more than half the world's internet users. Take me. I don't enjoy Facebook--never really have--and I think of myself as anything but an active Facebook user. But in fact, I visit the site at least once a day and usually more. It's just that everything is relative. My husband or best friend will post some news tidbit or other on Facebook and express surprise if I haven't seen it a couple of hours later. 

It's also become the standard way that most of us announce life events, such as the death of a loved one or birth of a child. And when was the last time you called people up or even emailed them to invite them to a party? It's so much simpler to create an event on Facebook and put the word out, as we did last week when my husband turned 66. Yes, we do have a few friends who aren't on Facebook (because they never joined, not because they deleted it). And, sadly, some of them didn't hear about the celebration.

These days, I suspect, many people are taking to Facebook to vent their frustrations about Facebook. I suspect this because I see memes like this one getting shared more than 6,000 times, and also because I see that Facebook is the largest source of traffic for my own pieces criticizing Facebook.

Interestingly, Kemp's research also shows that Facebook's billions of active monthly users do seem to be visiting the service less often and spending less time there when they do. As Kemp writes, "This is part of an ongoing change though, and isn't solely attributable to the Cambridge Analytica affair." In fact, it's probably the decrease that Facebook itself predicted would happen when it changed its news feed algorithms in response to revelations several months ago that Russian operatives were using the service to manipulate American voters.

It seems that few of us--whatever we might say--are actually deleting Facebook. On the other hand, we're just naturally spending less of our time there. It may not be the retribution some believe Facebook deserves. But at least it's a start.

Published on: Mar 29, 2018
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