The dangers of social media are fast becoming known to all of us. Whether it’s data leaks, privacy hacking or the increased likelihood of ill mental health, social media is fast becoming a vice more than it is a positive platform for connecting. Now, experts are warning that social media platforms create the same addictive behaviour that gambling does.
According to researchers, platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter employ the same techniques as gambling sites in order to create a psychological dependency on the app. Natasha Schull, author of Addiction by Design, wrote about the way in which slot machines are designed to perpetuate addiction. She told The Guardian:
‘Facebook, Twitter and other companies use methods similar to the gambling industry to keep users on their sites. In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention – which is measured in clicks and time spent.’
‘If you disengage, you get peppered with little messages or bonus offers to get your attention and pull you back in,’ Schull continued, ‘We have to start recognizing the costs of time spent on social media. It’s not just a game – it affects us financially, physically and emotionally.’
The phenomenon has been highlighted by various designers, who have previously warned that social media platforms have entire departments devoted to making their app addictive. According to Professor Daniel Kruger, an expert in human behaviour, ‘they want you to be permanently online and by bombarding you with messages and stimuli try to redirect your attention back to their app or webpage.’
And the real danger of this is how easily the psychological impact can be overlooked. Kruger claims that there are various signs of phone dependency, including thinking your phone is vibrating when it’s not.
‘Phantom calls and notifications are linked to our psychological craving for such signals,’ he continued, ‘these social media messages can activate the same brain mechanisms as cocaine [does] and this is just one of the ways to identify those mechanisms because our minds are a physiological product of our brain.’
And as these habits are continuously reinforced, they become harder to break. Nir Eyal, a behavioral psychologist, explained further:
‘It starts with a trigger, an action, a reward and then an investment and its through successive cycles, through these hooks, that habits are formed. We see them in all sorts of products, certainly in social media and gambling. This is a big part of how habits are changed.’
Then, as the habit is formed, the external trigger (a notification or vibration) is no longer necessary, instead replaced with an internal trigger where we associate wanting to use the product with serving an emotional need. He continued:
‘The products are built to be engaging and what’s engaging for some is addictive for others, that’s clear.'
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