Facebook is a ubiquitous platform that has billions of active accounts. The global pervasiveness is why I chose to discuss its ethics behind its design. Any decisions this platform generates has a myriad of consequences on its user’s. A user base of this magnitude requires a social utility in design and responsibility that doesn’t compromise happiness. However, credible research has tested and concluded its design does negatively affect happiness and well-being. I argue that some of the reasons are from specific dark patterns (Harris, 2016). I will propose a redesign solution for a more ethical and successful design.
First, I want to discuss my interpretation of a successful design. Technology industry is similar to other industries that experience competition, supply & demand, and profit goals. I argue that a successful design can remain competitive; however, there must be an ethical obligation of ensuring user’s are not a means to the end for profit gains. A successful design provides services that don’t need to rely on deceptive tactics to fool or disintegrate willpower (Singer, 2015).
There is research and evidence linking Facebook to dark patterns. Verduyn et. al (2015) discuss the consequences of user passivity on well-being. The central newsfeed feature of Facebook is designed for a user’s behavior to passively keep scrolling (Brey, 1999). Tristan Harris (2016) mentions how users experience the fear of missing something important (FMSI). This dark pattern means if you stop scrolling, then there is a chance to miss an event and friend’s activity. The users are hooked into passively scrolling that contributes to feelings of envy by comparison and overall reduction in well-being (Verduyn et. al, 2015; Shakya and Christakis, 2017). This wastes time as the newsfeed keeps users on Facebook longer (Zagal et. el, 2013). Also, the newsfeed’s design encourages behavior of posting only a menu of positive depictions of live. This also applies to other platforms, such as Instagram.
I propose two solutions for an ethically success Facebook user experience. I recently saw on Instagram’s feed a message prompt that communicated an entire day’s activity was seen. I find the inclusion of this feature successful because it circumvents FMSI and wasting time. I argue that Facebook could benefit user’s well-being by implementing a similar feature on their newsfeed. My second solution is Facebook highlighting the “like” buttons and comment box to encourage user’s active participation. A number of sources provided evidence that passive activity is the underlying problem. Highlighting these interactive features could remind users to step away, engage in digital communication, and reduce their passivity.
In conclusion, Facebook has a powerful position and with that they must take responsibility to promote overall well-being and happiness in their platform design. Integrating dark patterns is unethical because it utilizes and fool users into being a means to an end. Specifically, it is unethical of Facebook to utilize FSMI and time wasting strategies to continue growing and sustaining its following. The two redesign solutions that I recommend target the newsfeed and comments. An environment design that encourages active behavior can help reduce or eliminate dark patterns. Users can regain some agency as active participants. Instagram seems to be following this ethical direction. However, I am interested in seeing the positive and negative trajectories of social media platforms and their utilization of dark patterns.
- Brey, P. (1999). The ethics of representation and action in virtual reality. Ethics and Information Technology, 1(1), 5-14.
- Friedman, B. Kahn, P. and Borning, A. (2003). Values sensitive design: Theory and methods (Eds.), Handbook of Ethics, Values, and Technological Design. 11-40.
- Harris, Tristan (2017). How technology hijacks human’s minds. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from:https://www.huffpost.com/entry/how-technology-hijacks-peoples-minds_b_10155754 (Links to an external site.)
- Shakya, H. and Christakis, N. (2017). A new more rigorous study: The more you use Facebook, the worse you feel. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2017/04/a-new-more-rigorous-study-confirms-the-more-you-use-facebook-the-worse-you-feel (Links to an external site.)
- Singer, N. (2018). Tech’s ethical ‘Dark Side’: Harvard, Stanford and others want to address it. New York Times, Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/06/technology/personaltech/cant-put-down-your-device-thats-by-design.html (Links to an external site.)
- Verduyn, P., Lee, D.S., Park, J., Shablack, H., Orvell, A., Bayer, J., Ybarra, O., Jonides, J. and Kross, E. (2015) Passive Facebook usage undermines affective well-being: Experimental and longitudinal evidence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144, 480
- Zagal, J., Bjork, S. & Lewis, C. (2013) Dark patterns in the design of games. Proc. Foundation of Digital Games.