PRIVACY concerns are fuelling a Facebook revolution with large numbers of users quitting the site and committing “virtual identity suicide”.
A study investigating the phenomenon identified privacy as being the biggest reason why people are turning against the social network giant.
“General dissatisfaction” with Facebook, fears of internet addiction, and the shallow nature of online friendships also played a part.
With more than 950 million active users, Facebook is far and away the most popular social networking site, followed by Twitter and MySpace.
The sites offer opportunities for social interaction undreamed of in the offline world.
But recently a “counter movement” has emerged with users abandoning social network sites by quitting their accounts and committing “virtual identity suicide”, according to the study authors.
So many people are turning off social network sites that new internet applications such as The Suicide Machine and Seppukoo have sprung up to help them.
These assist by automatically deleting private content, friends and pictures and making accounts inaccessible with password changes.
Another aspect of the counter movement was “Quit Facebook Day”, a website that allowed Facebook users to announce their intention to abandon their accounts on May 31, 2010.
On the day, more than 34,000 users confirmed they were quitting Facebook.
Austrian psychologists led by Dr Stefan Stieger, from the University of Vienna, compared 321 Facebook users with a similar number of Facebook quitters to see how they differed.
Participants were recruited through online invitations posted on “Quit Facebook Day” and sites dedicated to internet research.
Questioning revealed that 48.3 per cent of quitters – the vast majority – had decided to leave Facebook because of privacy concerns.
General dissatisfaction accounted for 13.5 per cent of those quitting, negative aspects of online friends 12.6 per cent, and feelings of getting addicted to Facebook 6 per cent.
Although there was evidence that quitters tended to be older and more conscientious than Facebook users, personality traits had no significant bearing on their decision to quit.
“The present research is to our knowledge the first to focus on psychological characteristics of individuals leaving social networking sites (SNSs) by committing so-called virtual identity suicide,” the scientists wrote in the journal Cyberpsychology.
“Compared to Facebook users, quitters had higher general concerns about privacy, higher internet addiction scores, and higher conscientiousness.”
The researchers highlighted Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s much-publicised claim that privacy is an outdated concept.
Addressing an audience in San Francisco in 2010, he argued that privacy was no longer a “social norm”.
“This led to heated public debates about whether or not privacy is really outdated when it comes to online communication,” said the scientists.
“Although the Facebook quitters of the present sample represented only a very small amount of all Facebook users, many of them seemed to be concerned about privacy to such an extent that it outweighed perceived advantages of Facebook and eventually led them to quit their virtual Facebook identity.”