When Facebook added the heart, the angry face, the sad face, and other responses, they said they were responding to user demand, but really they were engineering a richer harvest of more accurate data for their advertising clients. As far as emotional experience, all "timelines" have four essential features that come together to provide a user experience that, although likely not clinically "addictive," is extremely appealing and difficult to resist, because of the constant emotional stimulation that it enables: familiarity of sources, novelty, variation and abundance. The media themselves may not be familiar, but in most cases they come from trusted sources such as friends, family, and people you have chosen to follow, which provides an important component of trustiworthiness. Interestingly this has long-term consequences too – a 2015 study found that the greater the proportion of strangers followed in Instagram, the greater the likelihood of depression. The novelty, or new-ness, of the content is an essential part of the emotional and affective experience of timeline content. Neuroscience is notoriously complicated, but the growing consensus is that the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, which is driven by the brains reward-seeking pathways, surges for novelty in this kind of situation.
Variation is equally important, because if the media are unpredictable and varied, there is an even greater incentive to keep checking, because the likelihood of novelty is increased. As for abundance, all timelines are engineered to be virtually unlimited in the amount of available content. While scarce content would lead limited user engagement, abundant content (given that it is also novel, varied, and from familiar sources) is much more tempting because no restraint is needed. A fuller account of this analysis, including a lot more of the scientific research that informs it, is provided in detail in the second chapter of the book.
Social media are most of the times for free or at least named for free. However: What users give is not money, but data, from which companies like Facebook or Google gain their profit. Why do people still downplay this development or even ignore it?
The first thing to say is that, as the book points out in its fourth chapter, capitalism functions best when nobody questions the terms of the exchange they make with capital, so the best way to achieve this, from capitals perspective at least, is to obfuscate that exchange process. The book goes on to say "the most dangerous version of how our relationships with capital are obfuscated is when you dont realise youre participating in an exchange at all. Since we do not pay for most [social media] services, we are distracted from the idea that they are businesses or that money is being made."
As far as possible, the entire process of using Facebook, Twitter and Googles services makes the revenue extraction aspect of their business invisible, except of course for the growing number of ads themselves that appear in the timeline, news feed, or similar. In other words, the experience is designed to feel as much as possible as though the consumption of all content in the social media app or website is on a "something for nothing" basis. Log in, get media, pay nothing. Who protests or complains about a situation in which they are getting something for nothing? Secondly, as I have outlined above, the use of social media (and other media, such as YouTube and Netflix) is compensatory and habitual for many users, so these users have no private incentive to change their behavior or habits unless something else can replace social media within these patterns.
The timelines of Social Media, esp. Facebook or Twitter, mix entertainment and information: Are these two compatible at all? Does the focus on emotions also explain the easiness of how fake news can be spread?