I recently saw the documentary 'social dilemma' about how social media platforms like FB and Instagram are impacting many people's lives negatively, in terms of creating an addiction to polarised views. While these have been widely acknowledged, pinpointing where things go wrong is not so easy.

Is it the

  • KPIs set by upper management (e.g. increase usage time by 0.01%)
  • Revenue model these platforms rely on. That is targeted advertising, pay per click
  • Creation of 'cool' features without checks on its long term psychological effects (e.g.IG Beauty filters)
  • Use of dark patterns on these platforms (long legal agreements no one will read)
  • a single platform for all age groups, exposing younger and vulnerable groups to scams, disturbing material.

What would be a likely solution (or more likely many solutions) to fix these platforms? Would it something internal? for example including an ethical review step (maybe like QA) in the product lifecycle? or external, like independent groups? or should it be something that's practiced from the top of the organization that trickles down in terms of values?

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    This is based only on my feeling, but I strongly feel that the two major reasons are, as you listed, 1) young, impressionable people and 2) a combination of features, KPIs and partially dark patterns that are all targeted towards keeping the user engaged. | Because it is certainly possible to use these tools without being pulled down into all that, but especially younger people lack the inner robustness to resist many of the stimuli.
    – Big_Chair
    Sep 28, 2020 at 7:31
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    As quite an established user here on UX, do you not think this question is very broad and opinion based? I mean, what are you expecting will be a "correct" answer here?
    – musefan
    Sep 28, 2020 at 7:39
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    I commend you for raising such issues on UXSE, and would encourage more designers to think about the impact of their design decisions more in their daily work. But as the question stands it is a little bit difficult to answer without writing a Medium article/essay in response, so I would suggest picking a particular aspect (e.g. dark patterns) to address and get input from the community.
    – Michael Lai
    Sep 29, 2020 at 22:07

1 Answer 1


I would like to quote Paul Virilio here, "When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck" Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress. Im pretty sure the creators of social media did not intend to create the havoc which has now doomed upon us, when they started out during the internet bubble.

We are irrational humans, we have always thrived for social validation & attention. We want to be liked & loved. Everytime we move to new city / new office / meet new people. We try to mimic them just to fit in. We want to be accepted, we want to please people around us. You can take the example of UX Stack exchange, apart from the prior motivations of helping each other in the community & learning from there. There is a feeling of satisfaction & happiness every time someone approves of our answer / question. Why does stack exchange have badges & scores?

There are two ways to looking at this. One being where there is demand, there is supply. If this is what the user wants who are we to regulate on whats being given. If we start censoring / regulating the content that reaches the end user - we are threatening the sole base on which internet was built : Freedom. We can also argue, we have created this vicious cycle & now its difficult to break it. If we force it, people find other platforms to satisfy what they want. There is going to be an increase in underworld sites & forums - which is definitely not healthy either.

We can attempt to reverse this cycle. There can be a new guild of designers called Ethical Designers ( There is no scarcity for designer titles :P ), we can be the advocates for positive impact on users. We can have a check before the product is rolled out. See how it impacts the users over a period of time, there can risk scores. Which can be materialised by a system governing these principles. We would be a creating an internet-held government.

I have been toying around with one another way to solve this rising concern. In todays world our designs are responsive to only devices. What if we create a system where the application is responsive to user behaviour. Every product that is delivered to the user , does its most basic function. Utility based applications. This type of designing is not addictive - just like how we are not addicted to washing machines.

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