Social networks can help addicted users while leaving the rest of us alone. If they wanted to.
About five years ago, I sat down in a series of meetings with leaders from Reddit, Snapchat, Facebook, and other social media networks. My goal was to discuss social media addiction and how companies might self-regulate to curb it.
At the beginning of each meeting, I said something like, “You’ve got users on your platform who really want to use your products less, but they’re struggling to do so.”
Oddly enough, I explained, some people were actually using social media to help each other stop using social media! For example, some Facebook users had created Facebook groups specifically to help each other spend less time on the site. At that time, many tech executives didn’t know this was happening.
Then, I basically said, “If you’re able to find the users who want to stop using your products, you should try to help them. It’s an ethical obligation.”
Unfortunately, my advice fell largely on deaf ears. Now, regulators are trying to make all sorts of wacky new laws, including the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act, to get tech companies to reduce the risk of addiction.
There’s only one problem: these regulations almost always miss the point. Usually, the government “solution” is to ban specific features, like infinite scroll, autoplay, and gamification, but these bans aren’t likely to help addicts. Banning specific features is not going to make this problem go away; it will only make products less fun for everyone else. And by “everyone else,” I mean upwards of 90% of us.
Yeah. Contrary to popular opinion, only 3% – 10% of people are pathologically addicted to social media. For the other 90%, it’s a distraction, not an addiction. And in fact, for those of us in that 90%, thinking we’re “addicted” is counterproductive. Instead, we can and should take simple steps to keep this distraction at bay, along with all the other distractions in our lives.
There’s a better way to help.
Instead of banning the features that make these platforms fun, we should require social networks to implement Use and Abuse policies—systems designed to protect people who are vulnerable.
Specifically, tech companies should identify the users who want to stop using their products, then help them do that. We know that most people suffering from addiction try to stop on their own. They want to stop, and they know it—but they struggle to change their behavior. A similar pattern exists with social media overuse and abuse; there are people who want to stop, but they struggle to change their behavior.
A Use and Abuse policy would make a real difference in these situations. One of the things I’ve proposed, illustrated by the image above, is a feature that prompts heavy users with an offer to help. After all, tech companies know how much time each user spends on their platform. So, when a super-heavy user pops up on their radar, they should ask, “You’ve been here a lot—do you want help cutting back?”
If the user says no, that’s fine. They should be left alone, at least for some time. Maybe that “super user” is a social media professional. Maybe they live in an isolated region where social media is the best way to connect with people. Plenty of people can use social media, even heavily, and suffer no adverse consequences.
But if the user says, “Yes, I do want help,” then the company should have a support structure in place for them. For instance, they could provide easy toggles for removing triggers that can lead to overuse, offer guidance on learning to moderate use and provide access to free online mental health services.
I’ve been suggesting this to tech leaders for years, anticipating that the call for regulation would continue to get louder over time. But for the most part, social media companies have disregarded the message, and they’ve failed to build Use and Abuse policies or systems to protect addicts.
It’s time for that to change. My hope now is that leaders will understand they have an obligation to protect people who abuse their products without making their services less useful for the rest of us. With nearly half of the world’s population using social media, implementing a Use and Abuse Policy is an ethical and business imperative that should no longer be ignored.
Top Consumer Psychology Articles
- Can We Regulate Social Networks To Curb Addiction—Without Making Them Suck?
- So, You Want To Become a Great Product Manager? [Q&A with Jackie Bavaro]
- Will Clubhouse be a Habit or Has-Been?
- The One Fitness App That Hooked Me For Good
- Here’s How Fortnite ‘Hooked’ Millions
- How Apps Can Shape Your Future Self
- How Netflix’s Customer Obsession Created a Customer Obsession
- Want to Design User Behavior? Pass the ‘Regret Test’ First
- How to Trigger Product Usage that Sticks
- How to Get People to Help Each Other, Online and Off
- Here’s How Amazon’s Alexa Hooks You
- How to Use Psychology to Make Persuasive Video
- How to Use Personality Science to Drive Online Conversions
- The Unbelievable Future of Habit-Forming Technology
- The Secret Marketing Power of Evolutionary Psychology
- Don’t Ask People What They Want, Watch What They Do
- How Cognitive Biases Can Help (and Hurt) Your Business
- What Most People Don’t Know About Behavioral Design
- How to Start a Career in Behavioral Design
- Your World is Full of Placebo Buttons (and That’s a Good Thing)
- How to Build Technology that Feels Like a Friend
- 3 Pillars of the Most Successful Tech Products
- Here’s How to Ethically Manipulate Other People
- How Two Companies Hooked Customers On Products They Rarely Use
- How to Hook Users in 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing
- Die Dashboards, Die! Why Conversations Will Reinvent Software
- The Secret to Sending Emails and Notifications That Work
- How to Win Your Competition’s Customers
- Hooked for Good: How Habit-Forming Products Improve Lives
- Good Products Start With Good Questions
- Human + A.I. = Your Digital Future
- Why ‘Assistant-As-App’ Might Be the Next Big Tech Trend
- People Don’t Want Something Truly New, They Want the Familiar Done Differently.
- 4 Ways to Win Your Competitor’s Customer Habits (Slides)
- Here’s Why You’ll Hate the Apple Watch (and the Important Business Lesson You Need to Know)
- The Secret Psychology of Snapchat
- The Psychology of Notifications: How to Send Triggers that Work
- How Technology Tricks You Into Tipping More
- Building Community Starts with Understanding People
- When Persuasion Becomes Deception
- Mastering Pricing Principles
- A Handy Behavioral Design Toolkit
- Onboarding Matters – Getting Users Engaged in your Product
- The Limits of Loyalty: When Habits Change, You’re Toast
- Dual Process Theory: Is Your Product the Elephant or the Rider?
- 4 Ways to Use Psychology to Win Your Competition’s Customers
- Web Psychology – The Science of Online Persuasion
- Developing User Empathy with Design Sprints
- The Real Reason “Stupid” Startups Raise So Much Money
- Understanding the Psychology Behind Game Design
- The Psychology Behind Why We Can’t Stop Messaging
- How to Do Effective User Research
- Context Driven Design (The “Context Effect”)
- The Psychology of a Billion-Dollar Enterprise App: Why is Slack so Habit-Forming?
- Writing Copy for Your Reader’s Brain
- Designing Habit-Forming Products
- Framing Reward is as Important as Reward Itself
- Games, Play, and Motivation
- How Scarcity & Impatience Drive Irrational User Behavior
- Should You Listen To Your Users or Your Data?
- Emotional Engagement – Designing with the Heart in Mind
- A Free Course on User Behavior
- It’s Not All Fun And Games: The Pros and Cons of Gamification at Work
- Product Psychology: The 3 Things Everyone Should Know About
- Getting Traction: How to Hook New Users
- Designing for Behavior Change Book Review
- The Sneaky Trick Behind the Explosive Growth of the Kardashian Game
- How Successful Companies Design for Users’ Multi-Device Lives
- The Link Between Habits and User Satisfaction
- What Triggers The Best Word of Mouth Marketing?
- What Tech Companies Can Learn from Rehab
- The Secrets of Addictive Online Auctions
- Teach or Hook? What’s the Real Goal of Online Education?
- Using Mind Control to Raise Startup Cash
- How To Build Habits In A Multi-Device World
- How To Cope with Your Insane Jealousy Of The WhatsApp Deal
- Why Do Fads Fade? The Inevitable Death Of Flappy Bird
- You’d Be Surprised By What Really Motivates Users
- Nostalgia: A Product Designer’s Secret Weapon
- How You Can Help Users Change Habits
- Is “Lean Startup” Right for Your Idea?
- Hunting for Habits: Keying in on smart design to make a product irresistible
- Are Companies Too Obsessed With Growth? How to Measure Habits
- Refresh: The App a Secret Agent Would Love
- Angel or Devil: Who’s Really Investing In Your Start-Up?
- In 10 Years, We Won’t Use Personal Technology
- 4 Simple Things I Did to Control My Bad Tech Habits
- “Yes, And”: The Two Words that Created a #1 App
- From Laid to Paid: How Tinder Set Fire to Online Dating
- What if In-App Purchases Came to Real Life?
- Hooking Users One Snapchat at a Time
- How To Save Your Startup From The “Spotlight Effect”
- Bible App: Getting 100 Million Downloads is More Psychology Than Miracles
- How to Boost Desire Using the Psychology of Scarcity
- Marketplaces & The Curse of the Network Effect
- Today’s Behaviors, Tomorrow’s Startups
- Venture Capital and The Superstitious Investor
- The Future is Driven by Interface Changes
- Why Business is Addicted to Habits
- Viral Loops Or Viral ‘Oops’?
- Making a Marketplace
- What Killed Turntable.fm?
- What You Don’t Know About Human Intuition Can Hurt You
- Designing to Reward our Tribal Sides
- New Video – “Hooked: Building Habit-Forming Products”
- How Technology is Like Bug Sex
- Ways To Get People To Do Things They Don’t Want To Do
- The Network Effect Isn’t Good Enough
- Mass Persuasion, One User At A Time
- How Investment Drives Engagement (Slides)
- Getting Your Product Into the Habit Zone
- Where Have The Users Gone?
- Infinite Scroll: The Web’s Slot Machine
- Designing User Habits Video
- Psychology of Sports: How Sports Infect Your Brain
- This is Your Brain On Boarding: How to Turn Visitors Into Users
- User Investment: Make Your Users Do the Work
- Behavior by Design Video
- When Designing for Good Is Bad
- Stop Building Apps, Start Building User Behaviors
- The Next Secrets of the Internet
- User Growth and Engagement: A Hacker Metric
- Spotting the Next Facebook: Why Emotions are Big Business
- The Billion Dollar Mind Trick: An Intro to Triggers
- Why Everyone Hates I.T. People
- Hooking Users In 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing
- Abolish The Reference Check
- Variable Rewards: Want To Hook Users? Drive Them Crazy
- How to Design Behavior (The Behavior Change Matrix)
- How To Design For “Normals”
- The Hook Model: How to Manufacture Desire in 4 Steps
- User Habits: Why Startups Must Be Behavior Experts
- What Is, and Is Not, Your Product’s Job
- Pinterest’s Obvious Secret
- Personalized eCommerce Is Already Here, You Just Don’t Recognize It
- Where is the Web Going?
- The Developer Divide: When Great Companies Can’t Hire
- Being a Quitter Makes You a Good Entrepreneur
- Behavior by Design
- Why You Should Run Your Business Barefoot
- Are you a Startup Star, Wacko, or Wannabe?