People who get more likes on social media post more often, researchers found.
For some, social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are avenues for connecting more closely with relatives and friends. For others, they’re ego-boosters fueled by the showering of praise via “likes” and comments from one’s followers. According to a new international study, however, social media users who chase “likes” have thinking patterns similar to lab rats seeking food.
Data from last year shows that four billion people worldwide spent several hours each day on social media platforms prompting comparisons to addiction. In the hopes of finding out what drives social media junkies to spend so much of their waking day online, researchers analyzed more than a million posts from over 4,000 users.
Their findings suggest that the behavior of many users was consistent with “reward learning.” This is a long-established psychological concept which says actions may be driven and reinforced by rewards. Those who receive more likes seem to be driven to post even more frequently. Meanwhile, others people who don’t receive the same positive feedback post less.
The researchers now say social media use appears to be driven by similar principles that lead rats to maximize their food rewards in lab tests like a “Skinner box.” For such an experiment, animals are put in a box where they are dispensed food by completing specific actions like pulling a lever.
This can be horribly exploited.
If we assume that people who post something on social media and get likes will post similar things in the future in an attempt to get even more likes, and we are in control of the social media platform, there’s a few things we can do to “train” people into posting what we want them to post.
First, we can manipulate the reach of the social media posts depending on the response we want them to get.
Suppose someone posts a right-wing thought we don’t want other people to think. We can simply prevent people who we know may agree with it from seeing it, so that it fails to gather enough likes to trigger the “reward learning” mechanism described by the researchers. Social media companies have a pretty accurate idea of what people may agree with, based on all of the data that they gather. It is what they use to target ads and such.
Second, we can also manipulate the actual likes, either by hiding the real likes by people who agree with a Wrong Thought, or by artificially inflating the like count of posts we agree with or with ideas that we want to push. We can make up fake accounts using AI-generated pictures of people who don’t really exist, and make these account “post” things based on machine-learning models of what actual people post, and use these fake accounts to “like” the posts that we want to reward.
The above are just examples, but they paint a pretty good picture of what is going on behind the scenes.