There are lots of tiny details, that change daily, that have the potential, and probably 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? They steal your attention enough so they can continue to take and redirect your data, your browsing habits, your interests, your interactions, to themselves and other companies to profit from.
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. 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.
This course has also inspired the addition of our ethical advertising arm, reCreative Good. Learn more about that endeavor here.
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. But how, you ask, could they actually determine how old you are if, say, you’re using your account as your dog, or your business? Simple. They’re asking you for it.
Instead of providing them with my birthday, [or in this case, my dog Willomena’s birthday, she’s only seven…] 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 and keeping you glued to your phone. Although I couldn’t find this info specifically, [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 mindless on a desktop/laptop computer than the seemingly effortless swipe of a 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.
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.
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.
What new features have you seen on your social media platforms that you might now think twice about? Are there any fun new filters or announcements that grab your attention? Think about the potential harms associated with those as well. I’m not saying to get rid of your social channels, for the life of me I haven’t been able to do it yet, but I have significantly decreased my use of the apps, and my every day life is that much better for it.
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.