Here we go again: another Facebook controversy, yet again violating our sense of privacy by letting others harvest our personal information.
The vast majority will return to Facebook, just like they did the last time and the many times before that. As in all abusive relationships, users have a psychological dependence that keeps them hooked despite knowing that, at some level, it's not good for them.
Decades of research has shown that our relationship with all media, whether movies, television or radio, is symbiotic: People like them because of the gratifications they get from consuming them – benefits like escapism, relaxation and companionship. The more people use them, the more gratifications they seek and obtain.
With online media, however, a consumer's use provides data to media companies so they can serve up exactly what would gratify her most, as they mine her behavior patterns to tailor her online experiences and appeal to her individual psychological needs.
Aside from providing content for our consumption, Facebook, Twitter, Google – indeed all interactive media – provide us with new possibilities for interaction on the platform that can satisfy some of our innate human cravings.
Interactive tools in Facebook provide simplified ways to engage your curiosity, broadcast your thoughts, promote your image, maintain relationships and fulfill the yearning for external validation.
Social media take advantage of common psychological traits and tendencies to keep you clicking – and revealing more of yourself. Here's why it's so hard, as a social network user, to pull the plug once and for all.
Buoying your 'friend'ships
The more you click, the stronger your online relationships. Hitting the 'Like' button, commenting on photos of friends, sending birthday wishes and tagging others are just some of the ways in which Facebook allows you to engage in "social grooming."
All these tiny, fleeting contacts help users maintain relationships with large numbers of people with relative ease.
Molding the image you want to project
The more you reveal, the greater your chances of successful self-presentation. Studies have shown that strategic self-presentation is a key feature of Facebook use. Users shape their online identity by revealing which concert they went to and with whom, which causes they support, which rallies they attend and so on.
In this way, you can curate your online self and manage others' impressions of you, something that would be impossible to do in real life with such regularity and precision. Online, you get to project the ideal version of yourself all the time.
Snooping through an open window
The more you click, the more you can keep an eye on others. This kind of social searching and surveillance are among the most important gratifications obtained from Facebook.
Most people take pleasure in looking up others on social media, often surreptitiously. The psychological need to monitor your environment is deep-rooted and drives you to keep up with news of the day – and fall victim to FOMO, the fear of missing out.
Even privacy-minded senior citizens, loathe to reveal too much about themselves, are known to use Facebook to snoop on others.
Enhancing your social resources
Studies have shown that active use of Facebook can enhance your social capital, whether you're a college student or a senior citizen wanting to bond with family members or rekindle ties with long-lost friends.
Being active on social media is associated with increases in self-esteem and subjective well-being.
Enlarging your tribe
The more you click, the bigger and better the bandwagon. When you click to share a news story on social media or express approval of a product or service, you're contributing to the creation of a bandwagon of support.
Metrics conveying strong bandwagon support, just like five stars for a product on Amazon, are quite persuasive, in part because they represent a consensus among many opinions.
In this way, you get to be a part of online communities that form around ideas, events, movements, stories and products – which can ultimately enhance your sense of belonging.