Facebook, Princeton feud over popularity studies

Facebook data scientists have responded to a Princeton University study that predicts the social networking giant will die like an "infectious disease" within three years.

Researchers from the New Jersey university say Facebook will lose 80% of users by 2017

Facebook data scientists are disputing a Princeton University study forecasting a sharp decline in Facebook users over the next few years. (Reuters, Shutterstock)

Facebook isn't happy about rumours Princeton University has been spreading about the social media network's friends.

In a response to last week's Princeton study, which predicts 80 per cent of Facebook's peak user base would ditch the online service within three years, Facebook says it has used the same scientific principles to conclude "Princeton may be in danger of disappearing entirely" by 2021.

The application of disease-like dynamics to OSN [online social network] adoption follows intuitively, since users typically join OSNs because their friends have already joined.- Princeton University research paper

Facebook data scientist Mike Develin posted an analysis tracking the New Jersey university's Google Trends scores and graphed a steady decline.

"This trend suggests that Princeton will have only half its current enrollment by 2018, and by 2021 it will have no students at all," the post, titled "Debunking Princeton", read.

"Based on our robust scientific analysis, future generations will only be able to imagine this now-rubble institution that once walked this earth," the post went on.

In Princeton's Jan. 17 paper examining online social network behaviours, the researchers compared the spread of infectious diseases to Facebook's rapid growth. Like a disease, the paper said, a quick spread followed by a quick death is a likely outcome.

'Rapid decline in Facebook activity'

An analysis of the volume of Google queries for the term "Facebook" was used to chart popularity.

Based on disease dynamics and a "correlation equals causation" calculation, Princeton forecast that Facebook's days are numbered, and that it will likely go the way of MySpace by 2017.

The disease model led Princeton to predict that Facebook users would abandon the platform as more and more of the people they connect with stop using the website.

In a rebuttal of Princeton University's recent study predicting Facebook will lose about a billion users by 2017, Facebook says an analysis of Princeton shows a sharp decline in enrolment. (Thierry Roge/Reuters)

"The application of disease-like dynamics to OSN [online social network] adoption follows intuitively, since users typically join OSNs because their friends have already joined," the paper states.

Princeton's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering adopted MySpace as a case study and followed epidemiological principles that "adoption [of a Facebook account] is analogous to infection and abandonment is analogous to recovery."

Between 2015 and 2017, they concluded, a "rapid decline in Facebook activity" should be expected.

Since its launch a decade ago, Facebook's community of users is now represented by more than 1.2 billion people. Princeton's student enrolment in 2013 was just shy of 8,000, according to the university's website.

Princeton's research paper was not peer-reviewed. Facebook noted its analysis was not peer-reviewed, but would consider every "like" to be a scientific endorsement.


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