How much would someone have to pay you to deactivate your Facebook profile for a full year?

Really consider the answer to that question. Would you do it for $50? How about $100? Maybe $250?

A lot of people would probably do it for free (myself among them). Others, though, spend a lot of time on the Book and wouldn’t part from it so easily. In fact, for the average Facebook user you’d have to pay them about $1,000 to cut that social media cord for a mere 12 months. Anything less than that, and they’d rather just stay online thank you very much.  

This was recently proven by several economists and a social media researcher who published their findings in PLOS ONE. The study authors held a number of “auctions” where they actually paid people real money to close their accounts for differing amounts of time. Some were asked to cut their connection for only a day. Others were asked to cut it for an entire year.

These researchers wanted to find out: how much do people value their time and access to free online social media platforms like Facebook?

It’s a simple enough question, but the answer to it outlines something very interesting about a person. It illustrates in quantifiable terms just how addicted they are to this free service, and what they would pay to keep it.

Because, this isn’t just about people accepting $1,000 to kick their Facebook habits for a full year. It’s also about people who turned down $900 to keep feeding them.

The researchers ran three auctions, testing three different demographics. They tested two samples of students, one of community members and one from an online pool. The participants were paid only once it was verified that they had actually held up their end of the deal and deactivated their accounts for the agreed upon duration.

Here’s what they found:

  • Auction #1 (122 students from a Midwestern university) – The average bid was $1,511-1,908 for one year of deactivation.

  • Auction #2 (133 students and 138 adults from a large Midwestern University and town) – For the students, the average bid for an entire year was $2,076, while for community members it was $1,908.

  • Auction #3 (931 online adults, roughly 33 years old) – $1,921 on average.

There are some social media junkies out there. Ask a heroin addict how much it would cost to kick their fix for a whole year, and you might get some similar answers. Clearly this free service is valued highly by many of the billions of people who use it — and as insane as those numbers seem, there were some participants that took things even a step further.

“A number of participants refused to bid at all,” explains study author Sean B. Cash, in a Eureka Alert press release. “Suggesting that deactivating Facebook for a year was not a welcome possibility.”

Some users are so attached to their Facebook connection, that no dollar amount could possibly pry them away from it. Some people value Facebook more than money…

Which seems deeply unhealthy.  

While the measurable impact Facebook and other free online services have on the economy may be small, our results show that the benefits these services provide for their users are large,” the authors write.

This research likely only scratches the surface of our affection for social media, too. Platforms like Facebook are such recent societal and technological developments that their effects on people haven’t been thoroughly studied yet. Studies like this one pull back the curtain, to show — if only partially — how much we value these new networks.

And what they’re finding is as unnerving as it is revealing.