“Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected,” reads their mission statement, which they probably didn’t mean as the power to share viral videos and cat memes for entertainment value. But that’s why most of us use Facebook today — to be entertained or to just pass the time — at least according to new research published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media.
This seems contradictory to what Facebook thinks Facebook is, or what Facebook once was. A place to find friends, stay connected or share information — they’re no longer why most of us log on to the world’s largest social network every day. No, we just want to be entertained.
In 2008, research showed that maintaining relationships was the biggest motivation for using Facebook. Four years later, perhaps the novelty of Facebook friendships has worn off.
“I think the shift in Facebook use is similar to the mainstreaming of the Internet, where in the earliest years it was always about how to, very utilization-oriented,” David Atkin, one of the paper’s authors, told me. “But as it became more widespread, and better, it became less goal-oriented and more for fun.”
Using previous literature on the motives for online activity, the researchers asked participants to rate how strongly they identified with five reasons for going on Facebook: interpersonal utility, passing time, information seeking, entertainment and self-expression. While all of the motives influence one another — most people go on Facebook for numerous reasons at the same time — entertainment and passing time stood out as largest drivers, with self-expression being an important motive too, the researchers said.
Personality is a huge reason as to why we do anything, and it isn’t any different on Facebook. Despite what people say about the Internet being a place for introverts to let loose, the researchers found that people with communication anxieties IRL also have these on Facebook. If you’re calm or stimulus averse, you’re probably not going to act much differently on Facebook. Gender also plays a small role, with women being generally more expressive, but the same is also true offline.
What is interesting about their model is not as much how personality and gender influence Facebook use, but to see how these five motives mediate that relationship. Entertainment is the largest motive for why we get on Facebook in the first place, but it also influences the four other reasons that we might end up staying on it. Entertainment and self-expression are also the only two motives that directly influence Facebook use.
It’s not perfect, but it’s an interesting look at why people actually use Facebook today, which seems to be moving further away from the place we once went to find friends or interact with people.
“Designers always have their own intentions, but we study the culture and human side of things,” Dan Hunt, another author on the paper, told me. “When people start engaging with the tool, they start to find their own uses and the tool has to adapt to them.”
Facebook is always adapting (albeit not always for the better) but perhaps Zuck’s changes don’t reflect the real reasons we still use Facebook — to read about TomKat’s breakup, watch the latest puppy cam or simply get through the 9-5 day a little faster.