Digital Manipulation

Written by Jo Langford, M.A.

Persuasive design is almost everywhere in technology: habit-forming features designed to keep users maximally engaged with digital products and to prioritize their devices over their body’s social and physical needs. In order to balance out the manipulation of persuasive design, users must understand what it is and notice when it is being used. Read below to learn some important tips and tools to help recognize and avoid the traps of digital manipulation.

Social Media
  • Stickers, tokens, and sounds are highly reinforcing, as are rewards for prolonged or repeated use of an app and the ability to share what you’re doing on social media (e.g., Snapstreaks).
  • Most phones allow you to limit or silence notifications, noises, and other manipulating draws for your attention.
  • Those ads that cross platforms and the influencers selling the same products mean that you are not the consumer, you are the product.
Screen Time
  • Notice how/when sites like TikTok, Instagram, Netflix, or YouTube autorun the next video (and the next one…), “motivating” you to Just. Keep. Sitting. There.
  • Tech like Google, Siri, YouTube, some news sites, etc. remember your past behavior and prioritize what they think you want to see. This means you will be fed more and more of the same or similar things, and not information or ideas that broaden your horizons.
Gaming
  • The more fast-paced, or single-player focused your games are, the harder it can be to unplug and spend time on your responsibilities and relationships.
  • It can be harder to calm yourself to engage and focus on learning and/or social interactions following gaming. Try to avoid doing it before school work, meals with friends/family, and sleep.
  • Video games give coins, badges, and other rewards to make you feel like you are mastering something, which will entice you to keep coming back for more.
  • The more time a designer can get you to spend on a game, the more add-ons and extras you are tempted to purchase. This is on purpose. Time limits can help resist this pull.