Posts Tagged ‘Like buttons’

Are you in Control?

April 6, 2019

This is the tenth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Facebook wants you to believe that you are in control. But this control is an illusion. Maintaining this illusion is central to every platform’s success, but with Facebook, it is especially disingenuous. Menu choices limit user actions to things that serve Facebook’s interest. Facebook’s design teams exploit what are known as “dark patterns” in order to produce desired outcomes. Wikipedia defines a dark pattern as “a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things.” Facebook tests every pixel to ensure it produces the desired response. For example: which shade of red best leads people to check their notifications? for how many milliseconds should notifications bubbles appear in the bottom left before fading away to most effectively keep users on site? what measures of closeness should we recommend new friends of you to “add”?

With two billion users the cost for testing every possible configuration is small. And Facebook has taken care to make its terms of service and privacy headings hard to find and nearly impossible to understand. Facebook does place a button on the landing page to provide access to the terms of service, but few people click on it. The button is positioned so that hardly anyone even sees it. And those who do see it have learned since the early days of the internet to believe that terms or service are long and incomprehensible, so they don’t press it either.

They also use bottomless bowls. News Feeds are endless. In movies and television, scrolling credits signal to the audience that it is time to move on. They provide a “stopping cue.” Platforms with endless news feeds and autoplay remove that signal to ensure that users maximize their time on site for every visit. They also use autoplay on their videos. Consequently, millions of people are sleep deprived from binging on videos, checking Instagram, or browsing on Facebook.

Notifications exploit one of the weaker elements of human psychology. They exploit an old sales technique, called the “foot in the door” strategy,” that lures the prospect with an action that appears to be low cost, but sets in motion a process leading to bigger costs. We are not good at forecasting the true cost of engaging with a foot-in-door strategy. We behave as though notifications are personal to us, completely missing that they are automatically generated, often by an algorithm tied to an artificial intelligence that has concluded that the notification is just the thing to provoke an action that will serve Facebook’s economic interests.

We humans have a need for approval. Everyone wants to feel approved of by others. We want our posts to be liked. We want people to respond to our texts, emails, tags, and shares. This need for social approval is what what made Facebook’s Like button so powerful. By controlling how often an entry experiences social approval, as evaluated by others, Facebook can get that user to do things that generate billions of dollars in economic value. This makes sense because the currency of Facebook is attention.

Social reciprocity is a twin of social approval. When we do something for someone else, we expect them to respond in kind. Similarly, when when a person does something for us, we feel obligated to reciprocate. So when someone follows us, we feel obligated to follow them. If w receive an invitation to connect from a friend we may feel guilty it we do not reciprocate the gesture and accept it.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is another emotional trigger. This is why people check their smart phone every free moment, perhaps even when they are driving. FOMO also prevents users from deactivating their accounts. And when users do come to the decision to deactivate, the process is difficult with frequent attempts to keep the user from deactivating.

Facebook along with other platforms work very hard to grow their user count but operate with little, if any, regard for users as individuals. The customer service department is reserved for advertisers. Users are the product, at best, so there is no one for them to call.