Facebook is rigged to feed your addiction

If you know how drug dealers work, you know that, the more frequently you ask them for drugs, the more frequently they will check if you want more drugs. Facebook does the same thing with its notifications. It gives you more notifications the more you check them.

You might think that this is logically impossible because the number of notifications you receive depends on the number of times people actually like, comment on your posts, photos or comments or when they tag you. This is only partially true. It is true that, if no one likes, comments or tags you in his posts or comments, you will not have any notifications. But, if someone does react to your posts, Facebook has different options for reporting on this. You may get just one notification which “folds” more notifications or you can get each of the folded notifications separately. For example, instead of a single notification “Jimmy and Johnny liked your photo”, you may receive two notifications: “Jimmy liked your photo” and “Johnny liked your photo”. Thus, Facebook can reduce the number of notifications that you will receive by folding more notifications into one.

How do I know that Facebook gives you more notifications if you check them more frequently? I did an experiment. I stopped checking my notifications six months ago. I describe my reasoning here. What was the outcome of this experiment? Several thousand notifications by now? Nope. If you ever try to ignore Facebook notifications, the number of your unchecked notifications (that little red number by the globe) will grow up to about 100 and then it will oscillate between 90 and 100. So, it takes 100 unchecked notifications for Facebook to give up bothering you with new notifications. It “quits” at around 100 notifications. When the algorithm detects that you stopped checking your notifications, it starts folding new notifications into the old ones so that the total number doesn’t exceed 100. Only for brief moments during these six months, my notifications exceeded 100 and then they returned to about 95.

This means that the fact that you get new notifications every day depends on the fact that your are clicking on that little globe frequently. Once you bring the number of new notifications to zero, Facebook will be quick to tell you that someone liked your photo or replied to your comment or whatever.

But, this is not the only way Facebook feeds your addiction by giving you more notifications if you ask for more. On a few occasions I did click on my notifications by mistake. After that I would maintain my policy of not checking the notification again for weeks. What happened then? The number of unchecked notifications climbs back up from 1 to about 100 in a few days. But, it climes faster in the beginning and then slows down. The first day of not checking, I would have accumulated about 30 notifications. The next day the would be about 55 notifications. The third day there was usually about 75. The next day the number climbs to about 85, and in the next days it stabilizes at 95 to 100.

What this tells us is that Facebook is programmed to give you more notifications if you check them frequently. Just like the dealer on the street, it is programmed to feed your addiction.

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