‘Addiction loop’ on social media fuels hate speech and misinformation: study

“There are only two industries that refer to their customers as ‘users,'” Yale said Professor Emeritus Edward Tufte. “Illegal drug and software companies.”

New research backs his point: The more engaged social media “heavy users” become, the more automatic and mindless their online posts become.

Over time, these heavy users become desensitized to the positive feedback—likes, shares, and comments—that motivates other people.

As a result, heavy users post information that new or infrequent users may find inappropriate.

“Not only do they ignore the likes, they ignore the consequences of the post because that’s how misinformation starts to spread,” said study co-author Ian Anderson, of the University of Southern California’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences , said in a press release.

Researchers looked at metrics from Instagram and Facebook to compare frequent social media users to infrequent or new users to see if social rewards (likes, shares, etc.) motivated the two user types in the same way.

They also examined whether habitual social media posting occurs without social reward.

“In other words, do these frequent users just post regardless of whether they get likes or comments on their post? Or are they just posting out of habit?” Anderson said.

Research, published in the journal Motivation Sciencefound that social media users develop posting habits on Instagram and Facebook that vary depending on how often they use the platforms.

Woman reads on the cellphone
Ordinary social media users often share information without thinking about the content or its impact.
Getty Images

They found that people with a daily usage habit gradually shift to auto-posting with a purpose in mind, without thinking about the content or its potential impact (or lack thereof). This behavior often leads to an almost “addictive” desire to share content frequently.

Additionally, researchers found that social rewards, such as liking, increased engagement primarily among new or infrequent users, but had little or no effect on daily or regular users.

The researchers concluded that much of the way people use social media is based on habits formed over time.

“Given the design of social media sites, users develop the habit of automatically sharing the most compelling information, regardless of its accuracy and potential harm,” said Anderson and his co-authors wrote in an editorial published by UPI.

“Abusive language, attacks … and false news are amplified, and misinformation often spreads farther and faster than the truth,” the authors added.

Person typing hate speech on computer keyboard
Hate speech, misinformation and cyberbullying are on the rise on social media platforms.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

But most social media platforms, the researchers claim, are designed to reward sharing of already shared content, making outrage a marketable commodity.

In fact, internal research by Facebook has shown that the ability to distribute content that has already been shared with a single click encourages the spread of misinformation.

“About 38% of text misinformation views and 65% of photographic misinformation views come from content that has been reshared twice, i.

Researchers concluded that to address issues such as misinformation, hate speech and mental health, social media companies also need to redesign the structure and programming of their platforms to change the way ordinary users interact with social media.

“Interventions that work for one type of user just don’t work for the other,” Anderson said. “There has to be something really disruptive structurally on these social media sites to change the behavior of regular users.”

Caroline Bleakley

Caroline Bleakley is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Caroline Bleakley joined USTimeToday in 2022 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with Caroline Bleakley by emailing carolinebleakley@ustimetoday.com.

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