Academic Minute Podcast

Ian Anderson, University of Southern California – Social Media’s Captivating Loop Compels Users to Share Mindlessly

Do you stop and think about what you’re sharing on social media?

Ian Anderson, Ph. D. candidate at the University of Southern California, looks into why people share mindlessly online.

Ian Axel Anderson (Ian A. Anderson) is from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He currently holds a BA in Economics and Political Science from Swarthmore College (2013), an MS in Management focused on Marketing and Consumer Psychology from INSEAD (2019), and an MA in social psychology from the University of Sourthern California (2021), with a Ph.D. expected in 2024.

Social Media’s Captivating Loop Compels Users to Share Mindlessly

We conducted three consecutive studies of Instagram and Facebook, comparing posting rates between habitual and non-habitual users to gauge their responses to others’ reactions and comments.

Our research revealed that users’ current posting habits differ based on past posting frequency. Habits shift over time from initially posting with a goal in mind to posting automatically with less thought. Surprisingly, users’ self-reported motivation to post and the number of likes, comments, and shares they received had less impact on habitual posters’ posting behavior than on infrequent and new posters, who were impacted by motivation and other users’ reactions.

This suggests that merely telling habitual posters not to share content that could be harmful or false won’t work as effectively as with non-habitual posters. Additionally, these first studies imply that with enough repetition, users form habits, which are associations tied to specific contextual cues, including the design of the platform, places or times they use the app, and receive notifications.

To test this hypothesis about contextual cues, we examined data from a 2007 structural change on Facebook to see if this change altered the posting rates of habitual users. We found the change initially slowed frequent posters, but boosted posting rates among infrequent and new posters, which it intended to do. However, without any prompting to reconsider their existing habits, habitual posters regained their posting habits over time.

Thus, redesigning social platforms could have an impact on the posting behavior of habitual posters by disrupting their automatic, less thoughtful posting. Combining this habit disruption with existing research-based interventions, such as embedded prompts to consider information accuracy, can help all users stop and think about the impact of what they are posting.

Read More:
[APA PsycNet] – Social motivations’ limited influence on habitual behavior: Tests from social media engagement

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