In the social media world, all platforms — Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, TikTok, Twitter, etc. compete for your attention. Platforms have the incentive to keep you on their app for as long as possible because it ensures that you spend less time on a competitor’s app. This is due to the fact that we are more profitable to these platforms if we spend longer on their apps, rather than focus on our own goals and aspirations.
This became abundantly clear to me after Instagram introduced Reels and Youtube launched Shorts to become more like TikTok. The integration of short-form content increased suddenly because of the immense popularity evident by the rise of TikTok.
“If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.”¹
Ads pay to be shown on social media because they are certain that they have millions of eyes on their ads at any given time.
And how do they have all of these users on social media, to begin with?
Predictive models and algorithms are specifically built to predict what type of content we interact with. The algorithm decides what videos and in what order you see them. Even we as humans cannot fully understand the algorithms we have built because they are largely facilitated by machine learning.
This is why every single person has a different explore page (on Instagram) and for you page (on TikTok). It is customized based on your likes, dislikes, and goals.
As Jaron Lanier points out in the Social Dilemma, if we were to compare social media sites to other websites such as Wikipedia, it makes sense as to why we spend more hours watching videos rather than reading articles–there is no customization or personal incentive for us.
Social media exploits a vulnerability in each and every one of us. It uses the power of persuasion to modify our behavior.
It is often times compared to a slot machine.
Dr. Cal Newport states in his TedTalk Why you should quit social media, “many of the major social media companies hire individuals called attention engineers, who borrow principles from Las Vegas casino gambling, among other places, to try to make these products as addictive as…