Saturday, February 27, 2016

Facebook and the Skinner Box in Your Pocket

The Good Folk at Facebook have decided that the simple "like" button is not enough.

After fiddling with it for more than a year, they have now globally launched emoji “Reactions.”

Users can still respond to a post or comment with the traditional “like” button, but by holding down the “like” button on a mobile phone, or hovering over the icon on a desktop computer, users will get an expanded menu allowing them to choose from six different animated emoji “Reactions”: Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad or Angry.

The “Reactions” buttons are brand new, but are already a success, as they encourage more participation -- an important metric that used to both sell and gauge the value of ad revenue.

Facebook, of course, is all about “click and treat,” albeit it’s "click" with a computer mouse, and it’s the “treat” of social affirmation, rather than a food reward.

The fact that Facebook is little more than a giant Skinner box has not been overlooked.

Writing in The Atlantic a few years back, Bill Davidow observed:

Our Internet handlers are using operant conditioning to modify our behavior….Google, Facebook, Twitter, retailers, and thousands of application developers are now positioned to keep users engaged on Web sites and program behaviors. That is, to operant condition them.

In the 1930's, B. F. Skinner developed the concept of operant conditioning. He put pigeons and rats in Skinner boxes to study how he could modify their behavior using rewards and punishments. His pigeons pecked at buttons in search of food. We peck at keys in search of virtual rewards -- good news arriving in an email, a retweet, a thumbs-up on a blog post, or leveling up in World of Warcraft.

The effectiveness of these behavioral modification techniques are in plain sight -- families ignoring one another while checking the email and Facebook at dinner, drivers texting in heavy traffic, and 14-year-old girls sending hundreds of text messages a day.…

The beauty of the Internet is that by combining big data, behavioral targeting, wearable and mobile devices, and GPS, application developers can design more effective operant conditioning environments and keep us in virtual Skinner boxes as long as we have a smart phone in our pockets.

1 comment:

Karen Carroll said...

And all we wanted was a 'thumbs down' dislike button.