It is no secret that Mark Zuckerberg did more hacking of the human psyche than he did hacking of code to make Facebook as big as it is today. There isn’t anything particularly technologically innovative about Facebook (in fact, almost any high school programmer can make a rough prototype of it within a day or two), but as Sean Parker revealed, Facebook’s breakthrough comes from Zuckerberg’s employment of psychology throughout the platform to brainwash its users.
“Six things our brains are programmed to do that make you incredibly vulnerable to manipulation” is a good, short article that explains how easy it is to trick you into doing things you wouldn’t do if you stepped back and looked at them rationally.
Let’s see how those psychological tricks tie in with Facebook:
1. Your brain is desperate for consistency
Your Facebook timeline is a filtered feed to isolate you from different opinions. It detects the subject material that you prefer to see based on searches, time spent with other content (your conversations, other webpages, other Facebook posts, other app downloads), then inserts like-minded advertising and posts from your “Facebook friends” to keep the cycle of self-reassurance and consistency going.
2. You trust social proof
I have long posited that social media and Facebook have transformed reasoned debates into popularity contests. Facebook “likes” are the implementation of social proof in its purest form.
3. You obey authority
There are a lot of high-profile public figures that use Facebook, so it must be good for you too.
4. You’re a sucker for scarcity
“Join or feel left out”. At the beginning, Facebook limited its membership to an exclusive group, which is what made it immensely popular. It still employs exclusivity and scarcity in various places, or at least the illusion of it (you’ll do whatever it takes to get the numbers in those little red boxes to go up). Facebook takes advantage of your sense of urgency to keep you spending more time and effort on the platform.
5. You’re a slave to your emotions
The accumulation of small dopamine rewards — the little red notification dots, the “likes”, the new feed content after a pull-to-refresh — all by-design to keep you psychologically owned.
6. You’re wired to reciprocate favors
By far the strongest psychological hack employed: the “echo chamber”. Getting “likes” back when you give a “like”. Replying to opinions you agree with to get a reaffirming reply back. Everyone is now in their isolated corners of the web patting each other on the back with constant affirmation. Someone not reciprocating? You can “unfriend” them. This emotional feedback loop keeps you numb.
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