Social media overload, exhaustion, and use discontinuance

From ScienceDirect:


While users’ discontinuance of use has posed a challenge for social media in recent years, there is a paucity of knowledge on the relationships between different dimensions of overload and how overload adversely affects users’ social media discontinuance behaviors. To address this knowledge gap, this study employed the stressor–strain–outcome (SSO) framework to explain social media discontinuance behaviors from an overload perspective. It also conceptualized social media overload as a multidimensional construct consisting of system feature overload, information overload, and social overload. The proposed research model was empirically validated via 412 valid questionnaire responses collected from Facebook users. Our results indicated that the three types of overload are interconnected through system feature overload. System feature overload, information overload, and social overload engender user exhaustion, which in turn leads to users’ discontinued usage of social media. This study extends current technostress research by demonstrating the value of the SSO perspective in explaining users’ social media discontinuance.


Facebook is probably one of the most successful information systems (IS) applications offered to users. Although its users’ passion remains strong, and the number of its global monthly active users keeps growing, Facebook is also facing the challenge of user discontinuance in the competitive environment. According to the report from Pew Research centre (2018), 26% of Facebook users have deleted the Facebook app from their mobile phones in 2017.

IS user behaviors, such as IS use and continuance, have been extensively studied in the IS field in recent years. This line of research helps explain why individuals use particular systems. Recently, IS discontinuance has attracted the attention of scholars, leading to research examining why individuals might stop using specific systems. A few scholars have examined the drivers of discontinued IS usage intentions for social media users from various perspectives. For instance, social cognitive theory has been applied to illustrate discontinuous usage intentions on Facebook by testing the relationships among self-observation, judgmental process and behaviors (Turel, 2015). Social support theory has also been used to examine social media discontinuance by investigating the negative direct impact of social overload on social media discontinuance intentions (Maier et al., 2015a). Discontinuance intentions refers to a user’s intention to change behavioral patterns by reducing usage intensity or even taking the radical step of suspending their behaviors (Maier et al., 2015a). Noticeably, whilst existing studies focus on discontinuous intentions as the outcome, discontinuous usage behaviors — referring to the next stage of discontinuous intentions in the IS lifecycle — have received little attention to date (Furneaux & Wade, 2011; Maier et al., 2015b). Specifically, there is limited knowledge concerning the psychological mechanisms underlying social media discontinuance behaviors. Uncovering these mechanisms is important because IS developers are keen to understand why users abandon their systems.

One potential reason for IS use discontinuance is exhaustion from overload (users’ weariness from the demands of their IS usage), which can manifest in different forms. First, to meet users’ needs or profitability goals, social media is constantly adding or updating features. Individual users can find it hard to adapt to new functions or interfaces, and thus they perceive a system feature overload (Zhang et al., 2016). Second, individual users spend considerable time processing information on social media, which includes irrelevant information like gossip, spam, rumors and forced content. This in turn can increase users’ information overload (Zhang et al., 2016). Third, the number of individual users’ social media friends increases with the popularity of social media. Individual users have to interact with their contacts on social media to show that they care about them, which can involve reading their posts, answering their questions or helping with their problems. Users need to give a lot of social support to their contacts on social media, but offering them too much social support might lead to social overload (Maier et al., 2015a). Maier et al. (2015a) found that some individuals experience social overload in their social media use, and they argued that social overload is an explanation for social media discontinuance.

However, studies on the different dimensions of overload remain scarce. Little is known on how the different types of overload (such as system feature overload, information overload, and social overload) as stressors lead to users’ social media discontinuance behaviors. Specifically, the ways by which the different dimensions of overload are interconnected remain unaddressed. This work offers an important extension of current research in the form of a detailed theoretical understanding of the psychological mechanisms underlying social media discontinuance.

To address the above gap in research, this study applies the stressor–strain–outcome (SSO) perspective to investigate the relationships between the different dimensions of social media overload and how different types of overload can relate to discontinued Facebook use. More specifically, this study extends Maier et al.’s (2015a) study by investigating a set of distinct types of overload (system feature, information and social overload) instead of only social overload as stressors. Furthermore, this study extends Zhang et al.’s (2016) study by examining the relationships between different compositions of overload, which provides a deeper understanding of the role of overload in explaining discontinuance usage. The proposed research model was empirically validated in the context of Facebook use using 412 valid responses from Facebook users collected via a survey questionnaire. The findings yield two key contributions. The first contribution applies to the compositions of system feature, information and social overload and the empirical validation of their relationships. The second contribution is the understanding of social media discontinuance from overload perspective enabled by the SSO framework.

The manuscript consists of eight sections, inclusive of the introduction. The next section reviews extant literature on IS discontinuance, the SSO framework, social media exhaustion, and overload.

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IS discontinuance

IS discontinuance has been widely studied in IS literature as a post-adoption behavior (Shen, Li, & Sun, 2018), and it refers to a user-level decision to abandon or reduce the use of an IS (Parthasarathy & Bhattacherjee, 1998). Discontinuance and continuance have often been considered the two sides of IS use (Turel, Connelly, & Fisk, 2013). More recent research has theorized that IS discontinuance is a distinct behavior, not simply the opposite of IS continuance (Cao & Sun, 2018; Maier et al.

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The dark side of IS usage has attracted the attention of scholars in recent years. The demands of IS use affect individual users and societies at large. Such demands are among the key reasons for the IS discontinuance intentions of users. Individuals may simply feel exhausted due to IS use. Researchers have called for more research on this topic and stressed the importance of understanding the fundamental mechanisms that underlie such negative outcomes.

Link to the rest at ScienceDirect

PG expects that many, if not all, visitors to TPV have likely OD’d on social media on one or more occasions.

Unfortunately, Elsevier’s Science Direct provides only an overview of the original publication for those without a paid subscription. Any visitors to TPV who are employees of universities, colleges, research organizations, etc., may be able to sign in to Elsevier or a similar overpriced online repository and read the entire study and, additionally, many, if not all, additional materials referenced in the paper.

Doomscrolling or doomsurfing is the act of spending an excessive amount of time reading large quantities of negative news online. In 2019, a study by the National Academy of Sciences found that doomscrolling can be linked to a decline in mental and physical health.


1 thought on “Social media overload, exhaustion, and use discontinuance”

  1. “Doomscrolling or doomsurfing is the act of spending an excessive amount of time reading large quantities of negative news online.”

    A disingenuous phrasing. It implies the blame lies with the viewer and not the news media, who’s motto is “if it bleeds it leads.”

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