With 20,000 people logged in at any given moment, and on average 5 people joining each second, Facebook for many of us has turned from a social networking website into a life blogging platform.
The more time we spend posting pictures and status updates the larger the emotional investment becomes, and the more Facebook becomes an extension of ourselves. Did it even happen if you didn’t write a status update about it?
The graph below shows the worldwide volume of searches for “Facebook Addiction” in relation to “Cigarette Addiction”. This November is the tenth anniversary of when “Facebook addiction” was searched for more than “cigarette addiction” on Google, and it’s been consistently dominating the world’s concerns for over a decade. Searches rose at a rather alarming rate from 2007-2011, however, since then they have been gradually decreasing. This graph demonstrates the extent that Facebook addiction is affecting the world’s population. Philippines have searched for “Facebook Addiction” more than every other nation, closely followed by South Africa and Ireland.
The Facebook algorithm interprets more than 100,000 “signals” to make its decisions about what users see. A study by Pew Research Centre in 2014 suggests that “44% of Facebook users ‘like’ content posted by their friends at least once a day, with 29% doing so several times per day”. Feeding a user’s previous ‘likes’ into this algorithm, Facebook could predict with 95% accuracy whether someone was white or African American, whether they were a gay male with 88% accuracy, whether you were male or female with 93% accuracy and age could be reliably determined 75% of the time.
Knowing so much about their users and being able to predict what they are most likely to be interested in with such accuracy allows Facebook to make content even more addictive. There are many scientific and psychological reasons behind why users are so addicted. SSLs have looked into six main addictive tactics that the social media giant uses to attempt to explain how Facebook keeps 26% of the world’s population using the platform with 1.37 billion logging in daily.
The average Facebook user in 2017 has 388 friends. With a constant flow of updates, sometimes every few minutes, we are left with the constant urge to log in and check what we have missed. Keeping up to date and satisfying your ‘fear of missing out’ is a reward for our brains. Research has suggested that a scrolling Facebook feed that never ends affects our brain in a similar way to taking cocaine.
A study by Even Skinner discovered that rats were more likely to become addicted when their food rewards were random. With content in our news feeds differing in quality and our Facebook posts ever changing in success, we see the same applies to humans whilst on Facebook. This phenomenon can be readily seen when looking at the mechanics of hoe slot machines keep their users addicted.
Receiving ’likes’ has been proven to increase the levels of dopamine in the brain. A chemical associated with pleasurable feelings. There are many triggers that Facebook uses, for example sound. Facebook messenger is so far integrated into the everyday lives of many of us that it is hard to imagine a life without it. The sound of receiving notifications is one thing, however, the sound of private messages is even more intoxicating and addictive. Visual clues like those moving dots when the person you are talking to is typing a message are purposed designed to maintain your attention. Vibration is also used as a reward mechanism. Our phones serve us notifications even when on silent in the form of vibrations. This is important when talking about addiction as when users are accustom to having contact with something 100% of the time, the human body naturally goes through withdrawal when it is taken away.
No single activity on Facebook requires a lengthy time investment. Messages can be read and sent with ease, group chats can be sent out too many people simultaneously, and status updates are generally short and easily consumed. This minimal effort catch up is appealing as it seems non-time consuming, however, this only makes us check Facebook even more regularly, increasing our addiction.
So why do we keep coming back? Simple, through investment. Every time we add a friend, or interact with a post with a like, or a comment, we have made an investment. This interaction allows Facebook to send users another external trigger in the form of a notification saying that somebody replied, bringing us back to the app. By encouraging an initial engagement, Facebook locks users into the process of wanting closure and following through on previous investments.
Affirmation from others is essential for human happiness. Social validation on Facebook makes us feel understood, makes us feel part of an expansive exciting world, and feeds our essential need for human connection. People have an innate drive to have their lives validated by others and Facebook allows us to do this with the click of a button.
The numeric quantification of attention in the form of ‘likes’ is addictive as users are always looking to better their last post. Visual cues such as the love hearts moving across the screen whilst live streaming, and the ability to react to posts are not accidental. They are all there to make the experience of receiving affirmation from others more euphoric and subsequently more addictive.
Many of us worry that too much gaming makes us anti-social. This is what makes socializing and gaming an irresistible combination. With many incredibly successful mobile games being synced with Facebook, the app is slowly becoming one of the world’s most popular destinations for online gaming.
Some of the most successful games such as Clash of Clans and Farmville carry on whilst users aren’t even logged in and they often make us wait a certain amount of time for crops to harvest for example. Using real-time is just one of the mechanics that makes these games more addictive and subsequently keeps us logging into Facebook even more.
Facebook allows us to interact with friends and family like no platform has ever managed to before. Users claim that it has relieved them from stress, depression but most commonly, loneliness. Being able to engage with millions of users allows us to feel part of a worldwide community. Feeling accepted by your peers and not feeling alone is a necessity for everyone, and this acceptance can become like a drug for some users.
There is an argument that Facebook has made us more social as it allows us to connect online first and then meet in person later, however, Facebook addiction can be a vicious cycle and the more time spent behind a computer screen, the lonelier users become.
After carrying out research on Facebook addiction, it is clear that it is no accident and Facebook are clearly investing time and money into making their platform increasingly addictive to its users. Is Facebook Addiction a problem? Well, any addiction is a problem. This addiction may not be physically detrimental at a glance, however, if users become too addicted it can be seriously detrimental to mental health, permanently changing people’s perceptions on how to be “social”.