The table below shows some of the features that are shared between 10 of the most popular social media applications. All of these platforms were created with different functions in mind but with regular updates and features being added frequently these applications are becoming more alike, creating a very similar user experience and one that can often have a negative impact on the user’s mental health.
|Interact with Posts||YES||YES||YES||YES||YES||YES||YES||YES||YES||YES|
Dark patterns are tricks that are often used on websites and applications, their purpose is to get the user to do something that they may not want to do, but that will benefit the application they are using. Dark patterns can have a detrimental effect on a user’s wellbeing and are commonly used in social media applications.
Features such as infinite scroll, ‘likes’ and adverts are all dark patterns that are frequently used in a majority of applications. Infinite scroll provides users with a never-ending stream of content keeping them glued to their phones. ‘Likes’ provide us with feel good chemicals such as dopamine, and adverts are often camouflaged or mixed amongst our main feeds hoping that we may accidentally click on them.
When you get email notifications from applications telling you about activity you need to view, but not actually telling you what it is, for example when LinkedIn email you to say, you have a message but do not tell you what the message is and instead give you a button that takes you to the website, that is a dark pattern.
Some applications use dark patterns when users try to deactivate their accounts. If you were to try to delete your Instagram account you would find that they suggest you disable it instead of deleting it, they then provide you with a drop down to select the reason you want to disable the account and depending on your selection, they will suggest you carry out another action instead of deleting your account, for example if you choose that the application is ‘too distracting’ they will suggest that you just remove the application from your phone and come back to it when you want.
These dark patterns are used throughout social media applications and no matter where we go, they cannot be avoided. With more and more applications adopting the same features, dark patterns are becoming more prominent meaning that a user cannot escape them, regardless of the application they use.
Instagram was created to provide its users with a platform where they could share photos and interact with other users through ‘liking’ and ‘commenting’. Since its launch it has become extremely popular amassing over 24 million UK users in 2020 (Revive.Digital, 2020). However, despite its popularity it is also considered to be the “worst for young people’s mental health” (Instagram Ranked Worst for Young People’s Mental Health, 2017). It has been associated with high levels of anxiety, sleep issues, body image and FOMO (#StatusOfMind, 2017). Instagram’s primary feature encourages users to present “highly curated versions” of themselves which is “driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people” (Instagram Ranked Worst for Young People’s Mental Health, 2017).
Snapchat is ranked as the second worst social media platform on the Royal Society for Public Health league table and has been linked with high levels of FOMO, bullying, body image and sleep issues (#StatusOfMind, 2017). The photo sharing application comes with a variety of filters and editing tools that allow people to share the best and often false versions of themselves, which is having a detrimental effect on its users with “around 70% of 18–24-year-olds considering having a cosmetic surgical procedure”. Due to this, more than “two thirds of young people support social media highlighting when a photo has been manipulated” to try and prevent young users from comparing themselves to unrealistic expectations.
Facebook is by far the most popular platform accumulating over 44 million UK users in 2020 (Revive.Digital, 2020). But it faces a similar fate to Instagram as it is also considered to have a negative effect on its user’s mental health. In the Royal Society for Public Health league table Facebook ranks in 3rd place, with its average weighted score also being in the negatives, it has been associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, sleep issues and bullying (#StatusOfMind, 2017). ‘Facebook depression’ is a term that has been created to describe the pressure that the online world can have as young adults “face pressures from unrealistic representations of reality, and deal with online peer pressure”.
Social media is often referenced as a simultaneous utopia and dystopia. Through the use of social media applications millions of people have the ability to be connected with those who live on the other side of the world, it allows us to stay in touch with those we haven’t seen for years and acts as a form of entertainment.
It may not be all doom and gloom but it certainly isn’t perfection, there are various issues from unethical features, to dark patterns but with some redesign and re-invention these applications could be the fun and happy escape that they need to be.