Mobile addiction: Are social media brands part of the problem?
According to some tech industry insiders, social media platforms themselves are making a conscious effort to get consumers to spend too much time on the world wide web and their mobile devices. Indeed, these insiders have spoken to the BBC’s Panorama for a documentary feature, and they have revealed that things such as Like buttons and infinite scroll were purposely built to sneakily cause people to stay engaged with social media for longer than what is needed (which is why we all need a smartphone detox every now and then.
Everybody in the planet probably already knows how a Like button works. Perhaps the most visible example is Facebook’s thumbs up graphic, or the heart shaped button preferred by Twitter and Instagram (a social media platform also owned by Facebook). This feature was actually co-invented by Leah Pearlman, and even she told BBC that the Like button has become an addictive component of Facebook, not only in terms of granting a Like to other people’s posts, but also with regards to the anxiety that goes with wanting to get more Likes. Of course, Pearlman never envisioned the Like button to be destructive.
As for the infinite scroll functionality, it was developed by Aza Raskin (who has previously worked with Mozilla and Jawbone) about a dozen years ago. While the feature was originally designed to facilitate easy browsing of web pages, Raskin now laments how tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, among many others, are using infinite scroll as a form of behavioral drug that gets people hooked and addicted to reading post after post.
BBC’s Panorama also took the time to get insights from Sandy Parakilas, who previously worked as a Facebook engineer (he left the social media giant around six years ago). According to him, the world’s biggest social media brand was fully aware that it was encouraging addictive behavior among consumers. In light of the recent Cambridge Analytica controversy, Parakilas has very critical of Facebook’s policy with regards to user privacy. Parakilas further pointed out that Facebook’s business model has always focused on maximizing user engagement. The main reason of course is that the company can get more advertisers if it can promise longer attention and engagement from all sorts of consumers.
Parakilas is not the only former Facebook employee speaking about the social media giant’s intentions. Last year, Sean Parker, former president of the company, had stated that Facebook was taking full advantage of a vulnerability in people’s psychology, especially their insecurities.