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15 Ways That Social Media Companies Are Manipulating Us

Tech & Science
15 Ways That Social Media Companies Are Manipulating Us

A recent study stated that Americans check their smartphones up to 8 billion times per day. While many will claim that they are taking care of important business or reading their online newspapers, the reality is that they are checking their Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat accounts. The social media phenomenon has taken over the imagination of the public, both young and old, and they have done so in a very manipulative manner.

Companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat understand the nature of human psychology. They know that people want to be liked, accepted, and praised. With this in mind, they have set up their platforms with features that provide us with all of the personal validation that we need. They’ve incorporated certain features that entice us to visit their pages, and others that trick us into hanging around longer and longer. They use our photos to remind us of fond memories from our past, and let us know that we are valuable by offering us new friends daily. We eagerly open up our social media pages in pursuit of that highlighted notification icon. When it’s not there, we’re disappointed; when it is, we feel a rush of excitement. Someone likes the photos we’ve posted or the comments we’ve made, we can now feel validated. But this validation comes at a cost.

While claiming to bring us closer together, social media has isolated us in the most manipulative of ways. We believe that we are connected to thousands of friends who constantly praise us, but the reality is that we are only connected to a lonely computer screen with flashing icons. Below are 15 ways that social media sites (and streaming services) are manipulating us.

15. The Halo Effect

The “Halo Effect” is when we make character judgments about people or companies based on how they present themselves. Social media and streaming platforms use the “halo effect” by presenting themselves as a both a helpful way to connect people, and a means to promote oneself. Facebook’s slogan, “Be Connected. Be Discovered. Be on Facebook.” drives right to the heart of our need to feel connected to others and also to be recognized for something. Because of this, users tend to view Facebook in an overall positive light, even though the social media giant has experienced serious controversies over the years; from sharing people’s personal information, to the current public relations nightmare of people streaming their heinous crimes live. Such incidents should cause millions of Facebook patrons to delete their accounts in protest, yet due to the halo effect, they are happy to look the other way as they continue to post pics of their favorite meals.

14. Brain Hacking

Social media platforms want you to be in touch with your feelings. They desire this not because they are trying to make the world a more sensitive and caring place, but because they understand that it is much easier to manipulate you when your decisions are based on emotion rather than reason. For example, after your homepage has already loaded, Twitter’s employs an additional 2-3 second delay before your notification icon lights up. This sneaky little tactic is designed with one purpose, to tease your emotions. With Facebook, after you’ve gone through the maze of pages and surveys in search of the elusive “account delete” button, Zuckerberg and company throw up one final hail Mary pass with the statement, “your friends will miss you if you leave.” According to Tristan Harris, “The closer the tech companies can get to your fear, anxiety, and loneliness, the closer they are to winning the race for your frequent attention.” He warns that the methods they employ are “shaping the thoughts and feelings and actions of people.”

13. Make It Difficult To Delete Your Account

There has probably been a time or two when you opened up your Facebook page and thought, “what the hell am I doing here? This is just a waste. I’m done with Facebook. Where’s the account delete button?!” Herein lies the problem. Facebook makes it easier to find Waldo than to find its “account delete” button.  But reaching this button will be a test of your will and patience. First, you must click the downward facing arrow at the top right of the page, then navigate trough settings, security, and the deactivate your account link at the very bottom of the page. Notice the title “deactivate your account,” not “delete” but “deactivate.” Then you must click on the “learn more” link which explains what “deactivate” means. At the end of it, they finally mention that you can “delete” your account, but then offer a link back to the help menu with the statement; “To help make this decision, you can learn more about deleting your account in our Help Center.” Once there, they give you a long spiel about how you will lose “everything” if you delete. And of course, there is yet another link to yet another page where you will finally find a button with the actual phrase “delete my account.”

12. Make It Personal

As human beings, we all have an innate desire to feel loved, a fact that is not lost on the various social media platforms. Facebook, the king of all social media manipulation, has developed yet another way to exploit this need. As you go through the marathon process of deleting your Facebook account, Mr. Zuckerberg and company will use your various memories with friends and family to keep you from hitting that final “account delete” button. For example, FB will throw up photos of those closest to you with the caption “Steve will miss you.” This is a tactic that tugs at your emotions and puts you in a nostalgic frame of mind; a place where you enjoy being. Instead of feeling good about finally ridding yourself of this gigantic waste of energy, you will feel guilty for abandoning your loved ones and it is this guilt that Facebook is counting on to keep you around just a little longer.

11. The Power Of Suggestion

Social media companies have made the power of suggestion a true art form and are using it to manipulate more of your time without you even knowing it. The big three for photo and video sharing, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, have implemented the infamous “Tag your friends” feature. For example, when you post a photo of you and your friend Steve, a little pop up frame appears around Steve’s face with the suggestion, “Want to tag Steve?” All you have to do is click the box once and you’ve tagged Steve. He will then receive a message that reads, “James Francis tagged you in a photo.” This of course will then entice Steve to click on the message to see the photo, and he will now undoubtedly waste the next ten minutes perusing through your other photos which he has probably already seen a hundred times before.

10. Tracking Your Every Move

Social media and streaming platforms are much like that mugger who is always hiding in the dark shadows waiting to pounce. The only difference is that while the latter is there to steal your wallet, the former is there to steal your time by using algorithms to track every moment of your activities on their sites. Facebook will record exactly how much you interact with people, news stories, advertisements, or a particular type of post, and then increase or decrease the amount of these that you see. Twitter makes use of algorithms to track the types of Twitter accounts you view and will then send you the notification, “the best Tweets you may have missed” with Tweets that are based on their algorithm results.

9. Netflix And Binge Watching

Just like the social media platforms, Netflix earns its advertising dollars by not only drawing you to their site, but also by keeping you there as long as possible. Throughout the history of television, studios would film and release episodes over the course of the season which meant that you would have to wait one painstaking week at a time to catch your favorite show. However, Netflix has gone against the grain of traditional television programming by filming the complete season, and then releasing it in its entirety. This approach has created a completely new activity, “binge watching.” Binge watching has been so successful at keeping you there that all streaming services now invite you to “binge watch” in their advertising campaigns. While many love the idea of not having to wait a week between episodes, the stark reality is that those same people are losing out on their quality of life while becoming literal “shut-ins” for days on end as they binge and binge and binge.

8. Before You Leave, Please Take A Moment To Fill Out This Survey

The various social media platforms have programmed us to only pay attention for small chunks of time by offering up something else to distract us every couple of minutes. They also use this same programmed minimal attention span when we want to get rid of them for good. The way they do this is by asking us to do a task that touches on one of our most annoying pet peeves, filling out forms. We hate to fill out the litany of health and insurance forms at the doctor’s office, and we always hang up on those survey people who call us to answer questions for a poll. Knowing this, Facebook requires you to fill out a survey form before they let you delete your account with the excuse that they just want to know why so they can better serve their customers in the future. The reality, however, is that they know full well that neither you nor I want to waste the next 15 minutes answering a slew of tedious questions. It is just much easier to close out your browser as you mumble to yourself that you will do it later. Of course, later never comes and you continue to be a patron of Facebook.

7. Snapchat “Streaks”

Snapchat has developed a feature that they refer to as “Streaks.” Streaks is a way for Snapchat users to keep a running tally of their interactions with each other. This is especially problematic as emotional teenagers make up the largest demographic of this social media giant, and are much more susceptible to a manipulative tactic like the Snapchat Streaks feature. To make “Streaks” even more enticing, Snapchat uses a fire emoji to indicate that you have begun a streak with someone. The implication of course is that you are on fire by continuing this streak. While Snapchat Streaks may seem harmless, the repercussions for these impressionable teens are proving to be anything but. Those who have had long standing streaks broken, many in the hundreds of days, have equated the feeling to the breakup of a serious relationship and something that is just too difficult to bear.

6. Twitter Notifications

When you open up your Twitter account, your eyes immediately go to the upper right section of the page in search of that little icon of a ringing bell with the hope that there will be a highlighted “notification” waiting for you. However, unlike Facebook where the icon lights up as soon as the page loads, Twitter makes you wait by employing a small 2-3 second delay before providing you with that validation that you so desperately need. The land of the “tweet” also runs the same delay with its drop down notification banner “see new tweets.” The theory behind this is based on the slot machine in Las Vegas. When you pull the lever of a slot machine, you are required to wait what feels like an hour, but is reality is only about 5 seconds, to see if you’ve won the prize. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. With Twitter, sometimes you are rewarded with a notification, sometimes you aren’t. Either way, the tension that builds as you stare at the icon, waiting desperately for it to light up is enough to get you back again and again…

5. Facebook Messenger Manipulation

You open up Facebook Messenger and see that little green dot next to your friend David’s name, so you send him a hello and sit patiently waiting for a response. A minute goes by, then two, then five, and nothing. The tension begins to build in your mind as you ask yourself, “Why hasn’t David responded to my message yet?” Is he ignoring me? Is he upset with me?” Now a little note appears with a check mark and “seen 7:45 pm.” Now you think, “Okay, David has just seen my message and will be responding any moment”. However, it is now 7:50 and David has yet to respond. 7:55, 8:00, 8:08 and nothing. Finally, you see another notification, “David is typing,” but then it disappears and another five minutes goes by before David finally responds with “Hey, I was busy making dinner.” Facebook has just manipulated you into spending the previous 30 minutes staring at a message window. More of your time on Facebook equals more advertising revenue for Facebook, and more frustration for you.

4. Video AutoPlay #$@%*!

One of the more irritating features recently added by YouTube is the “video autoplay” function. As soon as the video you’ve selected ends, another video begins automatically before you have an opportunity to either stop it, or to close down the video player. Not long after YouTube implemented this annoying feature, various news websites like the New York Daily News and Washington Post caught on and have now followed suit. Not to be outdone, Netflix has developed a similar feature, but unlike the news sites that quickly start the next video before you can stop it, they actually have a countdown clock for the next episode. However, this countdown also works as a type of psychological tease to keep you watching. Once again, it is all about keeping you on their sites as long as possible.

3. Game Theory

Back in 2000, a new airline startup, JetBlue, flipped the airline industry on its wing by offering a wide range of high end amenities and services at affordable prices. JetBlue became such a huge success that it forced the entire airline industry to follow suit or lose business. This was a classic example of “game theory.” In “game theory,” competing interests must speculate what the other is doing and take great risk in their decision-making in order to compete. JetBlue played its whole hand of cards and could have gone down in flames, but the established airline industry blinked and the rest is history. The same applies for social media platforms. In December of 2014, YouTube began testing their new “Auto Play” function, which we just mentioned. Twitter followed suit the following year with its own video autoplay feature, and news sites like CNN and the New York Daily News also added video autoplay. If one platform is successful with an annoying feature like autoplay, then competing websites must follow suit.

2. YouTube Analytics

Analytics are the perfect way to motivate you to want to return to the site and post more material. While YouTube may advertise analytics as a way to understand the performance of your videos so that you can manage them, the side note is that analytics really offers you, and your ego, everything possible to satisfy your ever increasing need for validation. With analytics, you get the basic information you get with other social media platforms such as number of views, likes, dislikes, and subscriber numbers. However, you also get more detailed information such as how long people are watching along with mentions and shares. You also receive information like the top geographies watching your videos, gender, and traffic sources. All of these statistics will either help your ego, or simply crush it. Either way, the large amount of information to process will keep you on the site longer, and for YouTube, that’s the name of the game.

1. Reward And Recognition For Spending “Time On Site”

For decades, companies employed classic advertising methods which focused on getting their name and product in front of you. While this strategy is still important, social media and television streaming platforms are forcing change. It is no longer good enough to implant products into your brain and hope that you will remember them during your weekend shopping adventures.Today’s advertising formula stresses that the more time you spend watching Netflix, and bouncing back and forth between Facebook and Twitter, the greater chance you will encounter their advertising. With this in mind, advertisers are paying these various technology platforms big bucks to hook you in and keep you there. You Tube and Netflix even goes as far as to celebrate users who spend great amounts of time per month on their platforms.

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