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Study: young people would pay to have everyone delete TikTok and Instagram


A new study has shown that young people only use TikTok and Instagram out of fear of missing out – genuine interest in the platforms is lacking. They would actually pay for everyone to stop using the apps if offered the chance.

A large-scale online experiment on how social media impacts consumers, conducted by academics at the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago, has shown that most young people use TikTok or Instagram because everyone else does.

Leonardo Bursztyn, Benjamin Handel, Rafael Jimenez-Duran, and Christopher Roth started out with a hypothesis that “being inactive on social media can lead to social exclusion or not owning luxury brands can be associated with having a low social status.”

The result isn’t that surprising – indeed, individuals might experience negative utility from not consuming a popular product. Moreover, they feel like they’re in a trap.

Researchers highlight “the possibility of product market traps, where large shares of consumers are trapped in an inefficient equilibrium and would prefer the product not to exist.”

The numbers presented in the research summary support the theory of a collective trap.

The numbers game

The authors of the survey-based experiment administered to 1,000 college students began by measuring the amount of money users would accept to deactivate their accounts for four weeks while keeping others’ social media use constant.

Next, they measured the value of respondents’ accounts when other students at their university were asked to deactivate them, too. Finally, the authors measured users’ preferences over the deactivation of accounts of all participating students, including themselves.

It turns out that users would need to be paid $59 to deactivate TikTok and $47 to deactivate Instagram if others in their network were to continue using their accounts.

But users would be willing to actually pay $28 and $10 to have others, including themselves, deactivate TikTok and Instagram, respectively. That’s a huge swing that demonstrates the extent to which users value social media platforms more when their peers use them.

Quite shockingly, “most respondents (58%) and a large share of users in our samples would prefer to live in a world without TikTok and Instagram, respectively,” the authors write in the paper.

“Respondents also favored the option of everyone deactivating their accounts over only deactivating their own account or no one deactivating their accounts, for both Instagram and TikTok.”

world-without-stuff
Majority of respondents said they would prefer to live without Instagram or TikTok. Image by Cybernews.

Admitting addiction

Naturally, active users of one or another social media platform who said they would prefer to live without the said platform were also asked why they still used it.

The answers were categorized in five ways, and most Instagram and TikTok users provided the so-called FOMO (fear of missing out) responses (“I feel like if I stop using it, I will be completely out of the loop”). The feeling was especially prevalent among Instagram users.

Respondents also said they valued the high entertainment value of the platform, while others admitted they were addicted and had self-control problems. “Information” responses were quite scarce – as were “Productivity/Convenience” responses.

Interestingly, the researchers also conducted a similar survey for the Maps apps, pre-installed on most devices. The difference is stark: 60% of respondents mentioned productivity reasons, 30% mentioned information, and only 10% mentioned FOMO.

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Students use Instagram or TikTok because they feel FOMO. Image by Cybernews.

Commenting on the study and its result, Jonathan Haidt, an American social psychologist and professor at the New York University Stern School of Business, said it showed that social media is not a regular consumer product.

“The business models of Meta and TikTok require trapping young users in this way. The presence of major external costs imposed on others – especially children – is the textbook example of why societies impose regulations, and why class action lawsuits exist,” he said.


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