Facebook May Lose 80% of Its User Base by 2017

Jan 20, 2014 at 1:19 PM ET

Like the bubonic plague, Facebook will eventually come to an end.

According to new research from Princeton, which compared the “adoption and abandonment dynamics” of social networks by “drawing analogy to the dynamics that govern the spread of infectious disease,” Facebook is beginning to die out.

Specifically, the researchers concluded that “Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80 percent of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.”

“Ideas, like diseases,” the researchers note, “have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models.”

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Basically, their idea is that infectious diseases (like measles) and social networks (like MySpace) behave in similar ways. In the early days, they spread quickly between people. Eventually, they reach a critical peak and then their prevalence or popularity declines. Using MySpace as a case study example—a social network that has gone through a full life-and-death cycle—the Princeton-ites uncannily demonstrated the analogy.

Their argument, accessible here, is that Facebook faces a similar fate, and that its decline has already begun. Diseases are like ideas, the study says, and continues: “Idea manifesters ultimately lose interest with the idea and no longer manifest the idea, which can be thought of as the gain of ‘immunity’ to the idea.”

Then again, take the study with a grain of salt. Its authors are smart, for sure, but they’re based in the school’s department of mechanical and aerospace engineering—which isn’t exactly well-known for its reports on social networks. And Arvix, the journal in which the study appeared, is not peer-reviewed. 

UPDATE: Facebook has responded with a study of their own! They claim, rather hilariously, that “that Princeton will have only half its current enrollment by 2018.”