Caught in the Web: Exploring How Social Media Persuasive Strategies Can Lead to Addiction

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Social media platforms drive surges of dopamine to the brain to keep consumers coming back over and over again. The shares, likes and comments on these platforms trigger the brain’s reward center, resulting in a high similar to the one people feel when gambling or using drugs. -DR. NANCY DEANGELIS, CRNP, Director of Behavioral Health

The world of social media is constantly evolving, particularly when it comes to teenagers who are often at the forefront of these changes. There is no denying that it has been very valuable and useful in terms of communication, entertainment and sharing of information. However, just like the moon, it also has its dark side. In 2022, Pew Research Center conducted a survey among teenagers about how much time they spend on social media:

a majority of U.S. teens (55%) say they spend about the right amount of time on these apps and sites, while about a third of teens (36%) say they spend too much time on social media. Just 8% of teens think they spend too little time on these platforms. Asked about the idea of giving up social media, 54% of teens say it would be at least somewhat hard to give it up, while 46% say it would be at least somewhat easy. Teen girls are more likely than teen boys to express it would be difficult to give up social media (58% vs. 49%). Conversely, a quarter of teen boys say giving up social media would be very easy, while 15% of teen girls say the same. Older teens also say they would have difficulty giving up social media. About six-in-ten teens ages 15 to 17 (58%) say giving up social media would be at least somewhat difficult to do. A smaller share of 13- to 14-year-olds (48%) think this would be difficult.[1]  

As you can see from this data, 54% of teenagers said that it will be difficult for them to give up social media. One of the reasons why is how engaging social media has become. It was purposely designed to get the most time from its users, their manipulative tactics were constructed to persuade the users to stay connected online.  

Addictive Design[edit | edit source]


Let's identify some of the common tactics or tricks social media has been doing. The first is the “like” button, a simple feature that can make its users feel socially validated by different users and urges them to post more content to get the most likes from their friends. It creates this illusion of rewards that can make them come back to get more. And the second is the “pull to refresh,” which mimics the addictive nature of slot machines. This trick will give its users endless content on on their social media news feed. Every time it reaches the end of their news feed, it will suggest to its users to pull down, to create fresh content that is based on the things they view online. Video platforms like YouTube and Netflix follow the same idea; they automatically play the next movie or episode for their users. [2]

In addition to these common techniques, algorithms can create social media bubbles. As Wendy Rose Gould states in her article “Are you in a social media bubble? Here's how to tell” there are two types of social media bubbles. The first is the self-perpetuated bubble, which is created by the user itself, filtering or choosing only contents that what the user think is right. A neuroscientist, Don Vaughn from the University of California-Los Angeles explains that humans tend to surround themselves with like-minded individuals, creating their own “bubble” of beliefs and opinions.  The second type is filter bubbles;[3] this term was coined by Eli Pariser who is an author and internet activist. On a 2011 TedTalk presentation, he explained that filter bubbles depend on the things that you do. This algorithm will then decide what contents to show in your social media feed. To simply explain, what filter bubble means, it is a computer algorithm that gathers all your personal information, including things you like, watch, and buy online. Using these data, it will create this personalized world based on the information that it collected. It chooses contents for you, without knowing what gets filtered out. [4]

Furthermore, from the data and information social media companies have gathered comes another persuasive tactic, which is called targeted ads. This may seem a small thing, but it does contribute to social media addiction. Targeted ads are digital advertisements that are designed based on our likings and interests.[5] Advertisers can collect your data through your web history, recent location from Google maps, even from Android phones. Another way they gather its users data is from “cookies.” Every time that you click “accept” cookies on different webpages, these websites will instantly store your information and data.[6] In addition, social media companies collect our data without our knowledge to provide the most interesting content that will keep us scrolling to their apps. This tactic is a win-win situation for them and the advertisers, but not for its users.

Strategies for breaking free from social media addiction[edit | edit source]

Without a doubt, these persuasive techniques have led its users to social and digital addiction, affecting their mental and psychological health. Bernard Marr, a well-known author from Forbes suggests 7 ways to help curb social media addiction:

  • Reset your brain’s pathways and gain perspective on your relationship with your screens by doing a digital detox of 12-24 hours
  • Set aside a certain amount of time each day to just be still with your thoughts
  • Put your phone in automatic “bedtime” mode, which will turn off all notifications at a certain time of night
  • Set time limits for apps or websites using tools like Freedom or Space
  • Consider turning off all notifications on your phone
  • Delete your most distracting or time-consuming apps from your phone
  • Set up a “one screen” rule in your house, which means you can’t use more than one screen at a time (i.e. no watching TV while scrolling through your social media feeds!)

In addition to that, disabling or deleting the apps that consume vast amounts of your time can be another way too.[7] By doing this they can now focus and dedicate their time exploring new activities and hobbies. Taking responsibility and being held accountable you can help them break free from social media addiction. These are just a few steps on how to break free from social media, just remember that it starts with you. By doing this it can help not only you but also the people around you.   

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Social media addiction is something that has been affecting the lives of teenagers. According to the data presented, more than 54% of teenagers said that they will have a hard time giving up using social media. These persuasive tactics that social media companies have designed, were not just to improve their platform but to get the time and attention of its users, specifically teenagers, because all of them have access to social media. This paper aims to give you a better understanding of what these tactics were. By taking responsibility and actively seeking alternative activities, you can help them regain control of their relationship with you and find a healthier balance in their lives. Breaking free from social media addiction starts with you, and the benefits extend not only to yourself but also to the people around you.

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

Sarah Miller, "The Addictiveness of Social Media: How Teens Get Hooked", This article provides the psychological effect of social media addiction to teenagers.

Erwin Lima, "How to End Social Media Addiction and Protect Your Mental Health in 2023", A great article that lays out broad information about why and how social media is addicting, and provides steps to break free from social media addiction.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Atske, Sara (2022-08-10). "Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022". Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. Retrieved 2023-06-08.
  2. "Welcome to Science Focus". BBC Science Focus Magazine. Retrieved 2023-06-08.
  3. Gould, wendy rose (October 21, 2019). ""Are you in a social media bubble? Here's how to tell"".
  4. "Eli Pariser: Beware online "filter bubbles"". 2011. Retrieved 2023-06-08.
  5. Kapur, Annie (2021). ""Is Targeted Advertising Turning Us into Addicts?"".
  6. "Why Targeted Ads Are a Serious Threat to Your Privacy". MUO. 2019-04-01. Retrieved 2023-06-08.
  7. Ivanov, Kelly Burch, Zlatin. "How to break social media addiction, or spend less time online". Insider. Retrieved 2023-06-08.