Why are so many Britons leaving Facebook?

New research shows usage in UK has dropped by more than a third over past year

Facebook F8
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
(Image credit: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Usage of Facebook’s smartphone app has fallen by 38% over the past year in Britain, according to a new study.

Researchers at analytics firm Mixpanel found that interactions -when user click on a web link or advert inside the app - declined in seven of the 12 months up to June, with an average monthly fall of 2.6%, The Daily Telegraph reports.

The new data paints a “very different picture from Facebook’s own numbers”, the newspaper says.

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In April, CNBC reported that the social media site’s European user count had increased during the first three months of this year, from 282 million active monthly users to 286 million.

But Facebook has experienced a series of sharp declines in recent years, suggesting that users may be falling out of love with the social media platform.

What’s behind the exodus?

A number of factors and recent developments may be at play.

Arguably the most significant is the introduction of stricter General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect across the EU in May last year, Bloomberg reports.

Under the new rules, websites must gain “unambiguous” consent from users to log their data. Facebook blamed the roll-out after losing about a million of its monthly active users in Europe in the second quarter of 2018.

Facebook’s chief financial officer, David Wehner, said the company had seen “the declines that we anticipated from GDPR” and that the falling user count was “purely due to the GDPR impact”.

Another factor behind the decline may be growing concerns about the potential negative mental health effects associated with social media.

US researchers who conducted a study involving 2,844 Facebook users found that participants who deactivated their accounts for a month reported “increased subjective well-being, less political drama and attention span agitation, and increased time spent with friends and family”, The Guardian reports.

The slump in activity on the platform in the UK may also be explained, at least in part, by variations in how user interaction is recorded.

Mixpanel’s study measured how many people open web pages or services in Facebook’s built-in browser each month, as a means of measuring “how intensely the app itself is being used”, The Telegraph says.

Facebook, meanwhile, measures user interactivity by analysing who clicks on links to external sites or adverts within the app.

As the platform allows users to read posts and watch videos without pressing a button, it’s also possible that people may be spending time on the app without being classed as active users.

How does Facebook plan to win users back?

A few new features aimed at winning back user engagement are in the pipeline.

These include a major redesign introduced in May that encourages users to interact with private groups to ensure that their timeline only displays content that they want to view, rather than groups or organisations with which they disagree.

Libra coin, Facebook’s upcoming foray into the cryptocurrency market, may also prove to be a valuable tool when it launches next year.

The cryptocurrency is designed to offer a secure way to transfer money between users overseas through the company’s chat apps, including Facebook messenger.

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