University of Twente Student Theses


Social network sites addiction by design : a compatibilist free-will analysis towards policy intervention

Bergamin, E. (2021) Social network sites addiction by design : a compatibilist free-will analysis towards policy intervention.

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Abstract:There is a growing demographic that uses Social Network Sites (SNSs) daily. With more than one billion users, Instagram is considered one of the fastest-growing social media platforms in history. Together with this, an increasing demographic which complains about a lack of self-control when it comes to the amount of time they spend on these platforms. In my thesis, I investigate the concept of Social Networking Sites addiction. I ask: Are Social Network Sites addictive? And, if yes, should their addictiveness be regulated? To answer this question, I first need to outline a philosophical definition of addiction. Through an introductory analysis of the concept of addiction as a lack of free will from a compatibilist perspective, I apply Hanna Pickard’s framework and mediation theory to the topic. This aims to show how the typical (mis)conception of addiction does not take into consideration the sense of self and social identity built around the addict and the role technologies play in mediating addiction. Through this analysis, addiction is defined as a lack of alignment between motivation and evaluation over a specific action, fostered by a combination of habit, self-categorization, and social identity of the addict. SNS companies take advantage of the vulnerability of users building their platforms to normalize problematic SNS use. They can establish addictive mechanisms using strategic methods and algorithms aimed at weakening agents' reflective power. I suggest discussing the role of SNSs in addictive behavior through the lens of mediation theory. Mediation theory helps show how SNS technologies mediate the addictive patterns users develop through affordances embedded in them. This view complements the compatibilist definition of addiction, as the problematic design patterns can be directly linked to the singular aspect that characterizes addictive behavior. The second chapter of my thesis aims at applying this theoretical framework to practical cases of SNS design. Here I show how the aspects that characterize addiction described in chapter one match with SNS design choices. Chapter One and Two aim at answering the first part of my research question. Once I have shown that the design choices behind these platforms reflect the addictive theoretical framework, the final chapter of my thesis is dedicated to justifying the introduction of policy intervention that will mitigate the current way SNSs are designed. The choice of policy intervention is justified because Social Network Sites, the way they are currently designed, do not respect the political value of autonomy. I narrow my perspective to the analysis of deliberative democracies, as described by Samuel Freeman. He states that public interest in deliberative democracies is defined as the circumstances that can enable and maintain the freedom, independence, autonomy, and equality of citizens. By threatening political autonomy through addictive and exploitative design, SNS design n be regulated through government intervention. I outline a GDPR 5 2.0 – General Design Protection Regulation – that will ensure the protection and respect of users’ autonomy through design choices. Finally, I address some objections that could be made to my argument.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Programme:Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society MSc (60024)
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