The Little Changes that Make Social Media More Addictive

make social media more addictive graphic

Managing Director, Meg Raiano


There are lots of tiny details, which change daily, that have the potential – and the intent – to make social media more addictive…

Many of these changes are barely noticeable unless you’re really paying attention. And that’s not to say that you wouldn’t be paying attention, that’s the whole point of these apps, right? Social media platforms aim to steal your attention so they can take and redirect your data, browsing habits, interests, interactions, to themselves and other companies so that they may profit off of you.

Since taking the free course, Foundations of Humane Technology, through The Center for Humane Technology, I’ve become a lot more aware of my surroundings on social media and also a lot more aware of how advertising and ethics should go hand in hand. Of course things still pass me by without my knowledge or consent but I’ve become more in tune with new features that are seemingly meant to help but actually harm. 

Let’s take a look at instagram for instance

When I logged into instagram today, it asked me for my birthday. The explanation for this is that instagram is no longer allowing users under the age of 13. 

“Providing your birthday improves the features and ads you see, and helps us to keep the instagram community safe.”

Instagram is FILLED to the brim with ads, why would I want to make it any easier for them to target me so they can add to their own revenue? In a quick test on my own personal instagram account, I found that every third story was an advertisement, and that advertisement usually consisted of 2-3 slides.

Instead of providing them with my birthday, I deleted the app. That’s a weekly struggle for me. As a business owner, meta makes it difficult to work instagram on a desktop/laptop application. They remove a number of the features [like posting stories, for instance] all in the name of capturing your attention. Although I couldn’t find that info [for good reason, I’m sure] I would wager a guess that retention on desktop is significantly less than that of mobile, simply because the experience is less focus-driven on a desktop/laptop computer than it is simply swiping upward with your thumb. 

Another feature that they added a while back, but have recently updated, is the line of text that shows over any reels you might be watching that says “Swipe up to see more”. Dear Instagram, No. I want to watch this video, not 100 other ones that are similar. This might seem like a harmless way to provide other content you might like, but it actually removes the content you are actively trying to watch from your view. Recently they made an update to this that literally bounces your screen up while you’re watching a video to try and entice you to stay longer, stopping you from actually viewing the thing you wanted to see in its entirety.

Why would they want you to do this? Primarily because their largest competitor in the social landscape right now is TikTok, and TikTok sure knows how to make them squirm. 

A few other things to note – anytime you post an image or a story to your instagram account, it asks if you also want to post to Facebook. Seems relatively harmless right? The whole point of this is to get you coming back to the other platform to check your like count on a regular basis so they can send you notifications to open your app and eventually sell you things based on the data captured while you were using either platform. 

Additionally, have you taken a peek at your Facebook news feed recently? Notice anything new? That’s right… they’ve added reels right smack dab in the middle of a completely different social platform. Of course, they are owned by the mighty meta but again, they’ve seen that TikTok works and are trying to capture that same 26 hours of your attention per month. Currently, Facebook + Instagram retain less time COMBINED than TikTok does per user per month. That’s gotta hurt. 

One more way, I’ve noticed in the recent past, that Facebook & Instagram have tried to combine their efforts more to reach you in more places is to consistently ask you update your Instagram messaging. Each and every time I receive a message on instagram and click through to read it, I receive the prompt to the right.

This seems like a pretty straightforward ask, right? Well, sure – its makes a seamless transition to hold all your conversations in one place, and if you’re using instagram as a business, you’ve already hooked up those accounts [facebook + instagram] whether you realize it or not. 

So next time you’re scrolling through Instagram/Facebook/TikTok/etc, ask yourself if that fun new button they’ve added is actually there to make your experience better, or to get that much better at selling you things.

After rereading this article, I realize I sound a bit jaded. But after more than a decade in advertising I am sick of it. This attention economy needs to stop.

If you haven’t already watched The Social Dilemma, I would encourage you to do so. It will help frame the argument of making social media more addictive-and what we can do about it-in a much less jaded light directly from those who created these platforms.