Many Younger Facebook Users 'Unfriend' The Network

Some younger users of Facebook say that using the site often leaves them feeling sad, lonely and inadequate. A new trend is emerging among these most intense of digital users: Many in their teens and 20s are leaving the social network altogether.

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With over a billion users worldwide, Facebook is arguably the most popular social media site around. Teens and early 20-somethings are its biggest users. But as NPR's Patti Neighmond reports, there are growing signs of disenchantment with the site.

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Genevieve Brown is 19 years old, a sophomore at New York's Sarah Lawrence College and an avid Facebook user since junior high. It used to be a great joy. But lately, not so much.

GENEVIEVE BROWN: I mean, it's kind of like everyone's life is a movie on Facebook.

NEIGHMOND: A movie that she is not a part of.

BROWN: You'll see that someone has gone to this new restaurant that maybe you were wanting to go to or they're out with their friend or their boyfriend or something like that and they're taking a picture of them all smiling with their delicious-looking food.

NEIGHMOND: We're having a great time out at a concert. Now, Brown knows that no one's life is one grand adventure after another. But even so...

BROWN: Sometimes I feel really sad after logging on to Facebook and going through it.

NEIGHMOND: It's not just Brown. A number of studies have found people feel worse after scrolling Facebook - more envious, lonely, even angry. In one German study, people were particularly unhappy after viewing vacation photos. They were also more envious when browsing Facebook instead of actively using it by posting comments and photos of themselves. Passive use is how Facebook officials describe it. Moira Burke is a social psychologist at Facebook. In a study she did when she was at Carnegie Mellon University, she found big differences between browsers and active users.

MOIRA BURKE: We found that talking to your close friends, writing on your friends' walls, having them like a comment on your posts was associated with improvements in well-being. So we found that people were happier and felt more connected to their friends.

NEIGHMOND: Burke says it's a lot like face-to-face life.

BURKE: You can be a wallflower or a social butterfly. You can connect one on one with your friends or not. And the outcomes that you experience really depend on how you interact with other people.

NEIGHMOND: But kids say you can post as much as you want but if nobody likes your post, it still makes you feel bad. In response to a recent NPR posting on Facebook use, nearly 800 young people weighed in. And most of them said they'd considered leaving Facebook, but at the same time, most said they just couldn't. It's their main connection to friends, school activities, even homework. But some did make the break.

JORDAN PERRY: My name is Jordan Perry(ph). I'm 23 years old and I deactivated my Facebook account about a month ago.

NEIGHMOND: Perry's in grad school at the University of Central Florida. And as he moves into adulthood, Facebook has started to feel intrusive.

PERRY: If you're friends with somebody and you're out with them and they post what they're doing, they can tag you in that status, and then it shows up on your feed or to all your friends and so they know like where you are. So if you're out at a bar or at a movie, somebody can say, at the movies and tag you, and then everyone knows where you are. And I just felt that was weird.

NEIGHMOND: Too much information, he says. Even younger kids can feel overwhelmed. The Pew Research Center recently did focus groups with kids between 12 and 18. Senior researcher Amanda Lenhart says many felt exhausted by the pressure to present a perfect version of themselves.

AMANDA LENHART: Whether that's through having the perfect photo of yourself as your profile photo and curating the other materials that were posted either by you about yourself or by other people. And certainly, that's - that can be stressful, particularly if you have lots of other people who are posting material about you, which you don't necessarily control.

NEIGHMOND: And today, with more parents, family members and even grandparents roaming the site, Lenhart says kids feel less and less control.

LENHART: Whether that's because parents would comment on things that they had posted on and would make faux pas in terms of sort of the social norms of the teens on Facebook and embarrass their children, or if it's a - you know, parents are just watching what their kids are doing and then asking a lot more questions in ways that makes teens uncomfortable.

NEIGHMOND: Which may be one reason why some kids are spending more time on photo-driven apps like Instagram or Snapchat where pictures disappear in seconds, or Twitter where you get 140 characters to express yourself. Use of those is on the rise. A survey from the Pew Research Center finds the number of new young Facebook users flattening, not rising, for the first time since the site began nearly a decade ago.

Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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