Facebook Inc. users have dramatically changed their relationship with the social-media platform, a new survey suggests, as the company’s controversies mount.
More than half of U.S. Facebook users 18 and older have adjusted their privacy settings over the past year, while 42 per cent have taken a break from checking the site for “several weeks or more,” according to Pew Research Center survey results released Wednesday. Just over one-quarter of American Facebook users deleted the app over the previous 12 months.
The Pew survey found younger users were more likely to have taken action. For instance, nearly one-half of U.S. users aged 18 to 29 said they had deleted the Facebook app from their phone over the past year, compared with 12 per cent of users aged 65 and older.
"I think there's a common perception that younger people don't care about privacy," said Aaron Smith, associate director of research at Pew. "We've generally found that younger Americans are actually quite active in terms of engaging with various privacy tools and managing their online presences."
Mr. Smith added that taking a break from social media is a common behaviour. "Social-media usage is not a one-way ratchet. ... That particular data point was something that we had seen in the past that speaks to a broader, longstanding phenomenon," he said.
In a statement to The Globe and Mail, Facebook said it had taken several steps to improve its privacy controls. "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.”
The Pew survey results come during a challenging time for the social-media giant. Facebook has come under increased scrutiny for how its users’ data are used, and how political actors can leverage the platform to influence elections.
In March, it was revealed that millions of Facebook users’ personal data had been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, a now-shuttered U.K. political consulting firm with ties to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The case led to an uproar over Facebook’s data practices and later compelled its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, to testify before Congress.
Pew’s survey was conducted between May 29 and June 11, and drew responses from more than 3,400 American Facebook users.
Social-media executives were back in Washington on Wednesday for a congressional hearing on foreign use of their platforms to influence U.S. politics. Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged the site was "too slow" to act on Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, but said the company is “improving.”
Facebook and Twitter Inc. shares dropped on Wednesday during the testimony.
Facebook is also struggling on some key metrics. During its most recent earnings call, the company warned of slowing sales growth as it puts “privacy first” in the product development phase. Facebook shares plunged in response, with the company shedding about US$120-billion in market value, the largest one-day drop for a U.S. public company in history.
User growth also disappointed, with the U.S. and Canada not adding any monthly active users over the previous quarter, and the European market losing one million.