Facebook is about to be wiped out like a bad plague, losing 80 percent of its users by 2017, according to the latest doomsday study about Mark Zuckerberg’s social network.
These types of studies are pitched to the press all the time, predicting the demise of Facebook. Some carry elements of truth, like research that shows teens to be fleeing Facebook. Some studies show Facebook causes loneliness or stress. No matter what, studies often show how harmful Facebook is to our culture—or how irrelevant it is.
For pure boldness, the latest study wins the "Facebook is screwed" contest, though. Two authors out of Princeton’s aerospace engineering school predict that the social network is heading the way of MySpace and will lose about 1 billion users within three years.
“Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80 percent of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017,” says the study, an “Epidemiological Modeling of Online Social Networks.”
However, a deeper look at this study reveals the substance of the argument is flimsier than the academic title suggests. Why does the aerospace school study social network trends, anyway?
The premise of the argument is couched in a sophisticated concept: The popularity of social networks, like the spread of ideas, can be studied like life cycles of epidemics.
Then the science gets really suspect. The authors claim that if social networks are like viruses and Google Trends can track outbreaks, then Google Trends could also track social networks.
So, using Google Trends data about MySpace—which we all know died out—the Princeton study sees similarities to how Facebook is on a path to extinction.
The study found that Facebook has peaked in its Google trend numbers, and compared the trajectory to MySpace’s after it peaked—Add 6 carry the 1 and … Facebook is done in T-Minus …
Of course, there is no reason to think that MySpace's Google stats from 2008 are in any way relatable to Facebook’s 2014 Google stats. The way people search is different and the way people access their favorite social networks is different. Their social media IQ is different, and the study doesn’t even pretend to address these.
It wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but the authors seem to know how big a deal these types of studies—and the media attention—could be.
“The dynamics governing the rapid rises and falls of [social networks] are therefore not only of academic interest, but also of financial interest to incumbent and emerging [social networks] providers and their stakeholders,” the study says.
The authors did not respond to a request for comment and neither did Facebook.
Of course, by 2017 the researchers may be right, Facebook could be toast, but that won’t be because the old MySpace stopped trending, it will be because the new MySpace started trending.