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The Oracle

Lincoln East High School's home of Spartan news

The Oracle

Lincoln East High School's home of Spartan news

The Oracle

The money-motivated science of social media

Photo by Robin Worrall
The more and more users engage with social media, the greater a motive for companies to increase psychological tactics to increase time spent on the platforms. Users would do well to monitor their time and use of it on social medias, to make sure they – not watching companies – are in control of their online experience. Photo liscensed under Unsplash

Humanity lives in a social age like never before, with dozens of social media apps provided free of charge at the fingertips of anyone who owns a phone. But though the advertised benefits of these apps are everywhere, how often do users stop to think about the motive of companies that advertise these free platforms? Or, even more important, the science behind those platforms, and how that same science can be deteriorating user mental health?

Social media apps such as TikTok, Instagram, or Snapchat, are advertised as existing for the user to socialize with peers, follow popular icons, find enjoyable content and more. But what is never advertised, is the alternate function these apps serve, one that earns the companies millions of dollars at the expense of their users’ health and internet security.

Social media companies make money off of advertising revenue (the money advertisers pay them to put their ads on the company’s platform). The more people use the platform, the more money those advertisers are willing to spend to show thousands of people their ads, the more money the company makes. It’s the companies’ highest financial interest to acquire as many users as possible, to squeeze as much user engagement out of as possible, for as long as possible.

“As the current business model of many app-developers foresees an exchange of personal data for allowance to use an app, it is not surprising that many design elements can be found in social media apps…prolonging app usage,” Psychologist Christian Montag wrote in “Addictive Features of Social Media/Messenger Platforms and Freemium Games against the Background of Psychological and Economic Theories”.

The more users are on the platform, the more of their personal online information and data is collected by the company to be sold to the highest bidding advertiser, to create more and more targeted ads to then be shown on those same platforms. The more data collected, the more ads sold, the more money for the companies who stand to profit off of the collecting of users’ private information. As the saying goes, “if something is free, you’re the product”.

So how does one go about increasing user engagement? By making the platform more and more addicting.

Platform developers load their apps full of features designed to cultivate addictive tendencies and increase user interaction: features such as endless scrolling feeds of personalized content, distracting notifications, and dopamine-inducing like buttons. These all work to increase the odds of a user opening the app, and decrease the chance of them leaving. This increases their exposure to ads, and provides more and more personal information about themselves to algorithms.

“Social media provides an endless amount of immediate rewards in the form of attention from others for relatively minimal effort,” Jena Hilliard, author of the article “Social Media Addiction” wrote. “The brain rewires itself through this positive reinforcement, making people desire likes, retweets, and emoticon reactions.”

Social media is not content that exists without ulterior motives. However, by being more aware of the tactics their companies use to keep eyes on apps, users can remain more aware of how they’re being used, what for, and how they can make more informed choices about how they choose to interact with the platforms.

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About the Contributor
Kylie Brown
Kylie Brown, Staff Writer, Editor
Kylie Brown is a senior at East, and this is her third year on the Oracle staff. Her favorite thing about the Oracle is that everyone knows each other, and it’s a much more relaxed environment than other classes. She really appreciates being able to work as a team with people she can openly communicate with. Kylie is the oldest of 5 kids, and was born in Utah. Kylie really loves anything crafty and creative; some of her favorite things to do are writing, drawing, and knitting. She loves listening to the rock band “Everything Everything" and horror podcasts, and really enjoys watching The Mandalorian. Her plan after high school is to go to BYU where she wants to major in either English or Business. In the meantime, Kylie is really looking forward to another exciting year on the Oracle.

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