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How Can Social Networks Design Trigger Fear of Missing Out?

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Social Network Sites (SNSs) are meant to facilitate interaction between people. The design of SNSs employs persuasive techniques with the aim of enhancing the user experience but also increasing interaction and user retention. Examples include the personalisation of content, temporarily available feeds, and notification and alert features. Socialness is now being embedded in new paradigms such as the Internet of Things and cyber-physical systems where devices can link people to each other and increase relatedness and group creation. One of the phenomena associated with such persuasion techniques is the experience of Fear of Missing Out (FoMO). FoMO typically refers to the preoccupation of SNS users with being deprived of interaction while offline. The salience, mood modification and conflict typically experienced as part of FoMO, are symptoms of digital addiction (DA). Despite recognition of the widespread experience of FoMO, existing research focuses on user psychology to interpret it. The contribution of SNS design in triggering FoMO remains largely unexplored. In this paper, we conduct a multi-stage qualitative research including interviews, a diary study and three focus group sessions to explore the relationship between SNS features and FoMO. Our findings demonstrate how the different SNS features act as persuasion triggers for certain kinds of FoMO. Also, we suggest features that could be introduced to social network sites to allow individuals to manage FoMO and identify the principles and challenges associated with engineering them.
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Abstract Social Network Sites (SNSs) are meant to facilitate
interaction between people. The design of SNSs employs
persuasive techniques with the aim of enhancing the user
experience but also increasing interaction and user retention.
Examples include the personalisation of content, temporarily
available feeds, and notification and alert features. Socialness is
now being embedded in new paradigms such as the Internet of
Things and cyber-physical systems where devices can link people
to each other and increase relatedness and group creation. One of
the phenomena associated with such persuasion techniques is the
experience of Fear of Missing Out (FoMO). FoMO typically refers
to the preoccupation of SNS users with being deprived of
interaction while offline. The salience, mood modification and
conflict typically experienced as part of FoMO, are symptoms of
digital addiction (DA). Despite recognition of the widespread
experience of FoMO, existing research focuses on user psychology
to interpret it. The contribution of SNS design in triggering
FoMO remains largely unexplored. In this paper, we conduct a
multi-stage qualitative research including interviews, a diary
study and three focus group sessions to explore the relationship
between SNS features and FoMO. Our findings demonstrate how
the different SNS features act as persuasion triggers for certain
kinds of FoMO. Also, we suggest features that could be
introduced to social network sites to allow individuals to manage
FoMO and identify the principles and challenges associated with
engineering them.
Index Terms Fear of Missing Out, Social Networks, Digital
Addiction, User Experience
I. INTRODUCTION
Although technology may be useful in all parts in daily life,
it may be partially responsible for encouraging problematic use
styles, such as obsessive and addictive usage. Technology
enables people to socialise remotely and socialness is being
embedded in new paradigms such as the Social Internet of
Things (SIoT) [1] whereby humans co-own and connect
through objects equipped with sensing and communication
capabilities that are used in everyday life activities. Traditional
social networking is already established through conventional
websites and mobile applications allowing continuous access;
e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and WhatsApp.
Such SNSs provide interactive platforms that enable people to
communicate, build and maintain friendships and look at real-
time information and events. However, one of the costs
associated with this ubiquitous opportunity for interaction is
the FoMO which typically refers to a preoccupation with
gaining more interaction opportunities and a loss prevention
ability when SNS users are offline or unable to connect and
communicate on demand. FoMO is also defined as a
“pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding
experiences from which one is absent and is characterised by
the desire to stay continually connected with what others are
doing” [2]. FoMO in relation to SNSs motivates people to
check their SNS interactions frequently or stay online
continuously. In addition, people who have chronic deficits of
psychological needs of satisfaction may feel an increased need
to frequently interact with others, even when this happens in
unsuitable or dangerous situations such as while driving [2] or
attending lectures [3]. Hence, minimising the FoMO and even
offering countermeasures for it can be argued as being part of
the social responsibility of SNS companies.
Researchers have recently begun to investigate the negative
impact of the addictive use of technology (including FoMO)
on SNS users [3-5]. The investigation suggests that those
experiencing such problematic digital usage may display
psychological disorder symptoms such as depression and
negative feelings [6]; insomnia, eating disorders [4]; low life
competency [5]; emotional tensions [7, 8]; negative effects on
physical well-being [3]; anxiety [7]; and emotional control [9].
People may experience anxiety when they are unable to
connect to cyberspace at any time or when they are not
receiving reactions and interactions to their activities [10]. Fox
and Moreland [11] stated that FoMO is the main reason why
people use Facebook extensively and feel pressure to do so.
While the underlying reasons for FoMO are diverse, SNSs and
technology could be designed in a way that persuades people
to remain in control of their usage [12].
The design of SNSs utilises several persuasive principles to
keep user interaction active and increase retention. Examples
include temporarily available content such as stories and feeds
(scarcity) [13], timed context-sensitive and personalised feed
news (personalisation and suggestion persuasion principles)
[14]. The grouping feature, which can connect two or more
individuals privately online, is another example of using
persuasive principles, mainly relatedness in self-determination
theory (SDT) [15], social proof [13], and surveillance [14].
SNSs are designed to use these features to create a sense of
belonging and popularity; i.e. to boost relatedness. However,
the desire to belong can turn into FoMO when people are
unable to connect with others and do not receive the interaction
and reactions to their posts they expect; i.e. they fear of
missing popularity and the right understanding of the causes of
an unexpected lack of online social interaction. The tagging
feature creates peer pressure to interact on SNSs as well. This
How Can Social Networks Design Trigger Fear of Missing Out?
Aarif Alutaybi, Emily Arden-Close, John McAlaney, Angelos Stefanidis, Keith Phalp, Raian Ali
Bournemouth University, UK
{aalutaybi, jmcalaney, eardenclose, astefanidis, kphalp, rali}@bournemouth.ac.uk
exploits the normative influence principle [16] and the need to
conform and prove responsiveness and empathy.
Presence features on SNSs provide individuals with
knowledge of the online availability of others and this acts as a
persuasion trigger for FoMO. This reflects the social trace
approach to the behaviour change support system in which the
system indicates the presence of others [17]. However,
presence features could facilitate FoMO; e.g. fear of missing
the ability to be popular [18] when others are shown to be
present but are not reacting. Impression features (e.g. number
of contacts who have seen a post) may motivate people to
increase their presence on SNSs and interact more due to the
fear of missing the ability to retain their followers. Moreover, a
number of companies use SNSs as a means of sharing valuable
opportunities with followers such as careers or discounts.
Thus, people may be staying online or thinking about
advertisements because they fear of missing such economic
opportunities. Hence, we may argue that opportunism is
another trigger for FoMO that is being used by de facto SNSs.
In this paper we build on the work conducted in [18] and
delve into the details of the role of SNS design features as
triggers for FoMO. We conduct a multi-stage qualitative
research study and concretise the relationship between the
main families of SNS design features, taking the Honeycomb
framework as a starting point [19] and the different situations
in which FoMO occurs. Our results are intended to inform the
design of future SNSs to minimise the negative effects of
persuasive features and offer tools to help users manage their
experience better and combat the FoMO.
II. RESEARCH METHOD
Our research extends previous work conducted by Alutaybi
et al. in [18] which consisted of focus group sessions involving
five-to-eight participants and a diary study with twenty
participants who participated in the focus group sessions. In this
paper, we extend this with further studies and explore the
relationship between the main features of SNSs, taking the
Honeycomb framework as a start and the different situations in
which FoMO takes place. The honeycomb framework was
introduced as an explanation to identify SNS functions. Seven
functional blocks comprise the framework: Groups (the extent
to which individuals can create their own groups), Sharing (the
extent to which people exchange, distribute, receive and share
their photos, audio and video), Reputation (the extent to which
people can recognise other peoples’ level or themselves
regarding their reputation through their status, friends list and
shared content), Conversation (the extent to which people
communicate with others via social networks such as sending
messages, commenting and chatting), Identity (the extent to
which people disclose their identity on social networks such as
their name, gender, age, qualifications and hobbies), Presence
(allows individuals to know the existence of other individuals
from their profile and status), Relationships (the extent to which
individuals relate).
To achieve this objective, we conducted a new study
comprising three phases: introductory interviews, diary study
and focus groups. Table 1 outlines the data collection methods
used in this study.
Table 1. Data collection methods used
Phase
Method
used
Brief Explanation
1
Interview
- With 16 participants Familiarising them with
the issue Familiarising them with the FoMO
classification concluded from the analysis of the
1st study - Extracting opinions and suggestions -
40 minutes for each interviewee
2
Diary
study
- With the participants from the first phase - Daily
basis - Recording personal stories - Investigating
new categories of FoMO
3
Three
focus
group
sessions
- With 15 participants from the second phase
Scenario-based sessions - To discuss their diary
entries and elaborate on them
The first phase consisted of an introductory interview phase
with 16 participants aged between 18 and 30 years who self-
declared their frequent FoMO experiences in relation to SNSs.
Participants were recruited using an open call to a student
forum, where individuals could self-nominate themselves to
participate. Interviews were used to double check the selection
criteria and familiarise the participants with FoMO in its
different facets and manifestations to engage them in the issue.
They were also issued with instructions detailing how to
complete the template of the next diary study including a
practice diary form. The participants were given a printed copy
of the diary template and were offered explanations regarding
its meaning in detail.
The second phase consisted of the diary study itself with the
same 16 participants who were interviewed and inducted in the
first phase. When completing the diary form, the participants
received a template via email each day for two weeks. The
participants were asked to complete the diary as soon as a
FoMO experience occurred. To support them further, they were
given a list of different FoMO categories provided in the
template. They were asked to attempt to reflect on the FoMO
categories, their FoMO experience and their personal
experience. The participants were asked to suggest new
categories to add to the list if they could not find sufficient
existing categories to describe their experience and they were
told to feel free to annotate them by adding or rephrasing
concepts. The participants were sent text message and email
reminders when they failed to submit their diaries promptly.
The third phase consisted of three focus group sessions with
a total of 15 participants to elaborate their personal stories from
the diary study. Each group consisted of five members and was
given five scenarios covering different aspects of FoMO with a
set of relevant questions. An open discussion subsequently took
place. The study was approved by the ethics committee of the
authors’ institution. The diary studies provided scope to explore
the lived experience of FoMO and to collect more eco-logically
valid data. Meanwhile, the focus groups allowed us to elaborate
on the diary notes and conclude.
III. FINDINGS
A. Conversation
The conversation feature represents the facilities that enable
people to communicate with each other on social networks by
exchanging messages, comments or chatting. This feature can
trigger a number of FoMO cases but in different situations, as
presented in Table 2. Conversation feature (especially if
spontaneous) may motivate individuals to change their online
behaviour and be online to mitigate their FoMO.
Table 2. Conversation-related FOMO vs SNS Usage Context
Conversation-related FoMO
SNS Usage Context
Fear of missing information due to
the large volume of information
Unable to interact or connect
as wished
Fear of missing the ability to deal
with different social networks
Unable to interact or connect
as wished
Fear of missing timely interaction
Unable to interact or connect
as wished
Fear of missing participating in
popular interactions
Unable to interact or connect
as wished
Fear of missing empathy and leaving
a good impression
Having to or feeling a need
to engage in continuous
untimed interactions
Fear of missing the opportunity to
know others’ impressions
Having to or feeling a need
to engage in continuous
untimed interactions
Fear of losing popularity
Having to or feeling a need
to engage in continuous
untimed interactions
Fear of missing a spontaneous
response
Having to or feeling a need
to engage in continuous
untimed interactions
Fear of missing the ability to be
popular
Online social gathering is
expected
Fear of missing the opportunity to
attend an online event
Online social gathering is
expected
Fear of missing information due to large volumes of
information: Today a lot of active social network sites
users complain that their streams have become too
overloaded and it is difficult to pick out useful information
[20]. Consequently, Fear of missing information due to
large volumes of information may be experienced and
triggered by conversation features when the volume of
conversations is high and people cannot access or respond
to them. Hence, people become preoccupied with missing or
accessing an important post or message, as opposed to the
case when a few messages from the same conversation
channel are received. One participant in our study
commented: There was a debate on Twitter about a
harassment accusation an actress had made against another
actor and the actor denied all accusations. Twitter was full
of comments. I was driving and could read only a few so I
was afraid that I might miss some new development.”
Fear of missing the ability to deal with different social
networks: This kind of FoMO is triggered by the
conversation features that occur when individuals encounter
multiple conversations on different SNSs. Thus, they find it
difficult to interact with all of them at the same time,
leading to the fear of missing something important or
interesting. One participant commented: I have to reply to
messages that come from Facebook and WhatsApp but I
was thinking who to reply to first to, so I really feared
having to deal with those messages at the same time.”
Fear of missing timely interactions: Conversation can
trigger the fear of missing a timely interaction when
individuals feel persuaded to respond to a certain message
and are unable to do so. From the participant’s point of
view, fear of missing timely interaction occurs “when
individuals could not check their SNS in order to see if
anyone has messaged them. Thus, “they fear missing
interactions that need them to interact instantly. This
happens when individuals do not know whether friends
know they are unable to interact or connect.”
Fear of missing participating in popular interactions:
Conversation can facilitate this kind of FoMO which occurs
when there are important events such as football match
happening, and people cannot be involved for some reason
such as driving or studying. As a result, they may be
concerned about missing something important that friends
or followers were discussing during the event.
Fear of missing empathy and leaving a good impression:
Conversation features could trigger this kind of FoMO
when someone is unable to reply or terminates a
conversation. Thus, fear manifests itself as a fear of missing
empathy, fear of not leaving with a good impression, or fear
of missing important messages which are part of a long
conversation. For example, one participant commented:
“My friend was talking to me about a personal matter and I
could not stop using WhatsApp as I feared my friend would
think I did not want to listen to him.” This reflects the social
psychological concept of the persuasive norm of reciprocity,
in which we feel obligated to return the effort that others
have put into helping us [13].
Fear of missing the opportunity to know others’ feedback:
Occasionally people send a message through SNSs to get
feedback from others and thus stay online in order to
receive their response. Conversation features in SNS can be
subtle and include implicit mutual interaction such as
reciprocal likes and comments. For example, I posted a
picture on Instagram and I was checking my phone
regularly throughout the day as I feared missing my friend’s
comments that may need me to reply. These concerns
relate to impression management, in which we are driven to
manage how we are perceived by others and to monitor our
success in achieving our desired social image [21]. As such,
we are driven to track whether we have been successful in
our attempt to manipulate how we are seen by others and to
perform quick, corrective actions if their response suggests
that we have failed in our goal.
Fear of losing popularity: Conversation feature designs in
SNSs may facilitate the fear of missing popularity. A
conversation feature could motivate people to be online in
order to reply to messages. The reason behind this is that
people may perceive that responding immediately to the
message may preserve or increase their popularity. For
instance, one participant who strongly felt the urge to
provide prompt responses said: I keep checking my
WhatsApp continuously to see if I have any message as I
have a habit of replying immediately in order not to lose my
popularity and also I do not want anyone to feel that I
ignore them.”
Fear of missing a spontaneous response: Occasionally,
communication via SNSs is not bound by time so when
people send a message to someone they do not know when
they will receive a response. Hence, such messages could
persuade people to continually check in order not to miss a
spontaneous response because they think that they have to
respond; e.g. I had to meet my friend regarding the
assignment that was due today but they didn’t tell me at
what time they’d meet me, so I kept checking my WhatsApp
as I feared missing spontaneous responses from him.
Fear of missing the opportunity to attend an online event:
When people experience this kind of FoMO, they fear
missing the live chat. This can occur when a certain online
event on a certain SNS allows people to chat during the
event. Live chats can facilitate this kind of FoMO due to
someone’s inability to be part of a live chat.”
B. Grouping
A grouping feature is a facility that can connect two or more
individuals privately online. This feature can trigger a number
of FoMO types but in different situations (see Table 2) and
drive people to accept the norms of the online group in order to
feel a sense of relatedness and popularity. Table 3 presents the
association between this feature and certain kinds of FoMO.
Table 3. Grouping-related FOMO vs SNS Usage Context
Grouping-related FOMO
SNS Usage Context
Fear of missing valuable information
Unwilling to engage in social
interaction
Fear of missing the sense of
relatedness
An online social gathering is expected
Having to or feeling a need to engage
in continuous untimed interactions
Fear of missing the ability to defend
your popularity
Unwilling to engage in social
interaction
Fear of missing valuable information: Individuals
participate in group to realise benefits from doing so such as
news or times of social gatherings. However, the group
setting may facilitate FoMO by making people fear of
missing valuable information when the group is active while
they are unwilling to participate in its activities. For
instance, one participant commented: “due to the Easter
holidays, the group on WhatsApp was active as everybody
wanted to catch up with each other. I was not interested in
interaction with the group but I feared that if I did not
interact, I might lose [a chance for a group] party or
dinner.”
Fear of missing the sense of relatedness: Individuals
participate in groups to satisfy their needs to belong and,
hence, maintain their popularity. However, the timing of the
group gathering may facilitate FoMO when it is unknown.
“This could drive people to be online in order not to miss
group gatherings that make them feel more related to the
group.”
Fear of missing the ability to defend popularity:
Individuals tend to be active members in a certain group to
satisfy their need to maintain their popularity. However, the
group setting may facilitate FoMO by driving people to
continually engage with the group’s activities when they do
not wish to in order to maintain their loyalty and popularity
in the group. For instance, participants mentioned that if
they do not participate in the group, their need to feel
popular within the group cannot be satisfied and this is a
clear example of fear of missing something. Within the
group dynamic [22], there is a motivation to conform to the
norms of the group (normative behaviour) in order to retain
a sense of belonging to the group and maintain the desired
level of perceived popularity and connectedness. For
instance, one participant commented: “I got so stressed
because my friends wrote dozens of messages on the
WhatsApp group but they did not say anything important. I
didn’t have time to engage and I also wasn’t in the mood to
interact but I feared that I would become less popular
amongst them.”
Fear of missing the sense of relatedness: Individuals prefer
to be a member of a group to feel a sense of relatedness.
However, the group may facilitate this kind of FoMO by
driving people to continually check the group’s activity in
order to gather knowledge about members and involve them
when necessary. One of the techniques that support the need
for relatedness in SDT is dependability by showing
availability in case of need. The participants mentioned that
if they did not check their online group, that may affect the
satisfaction of the need for relatedness. For instance, one
participant commented: “I kept on checking WhatsApp
groups to see what my friends were doing and become
involve when they needed help.”
C. Presence
Presence features allow people to express their existence and
availability on a SNS to other individuals; e.g. online but for
urgent matters only. This feature can trigger a number of types
of FoMO (see Table 4) and persuade people to stalk or even
annoy others in order to reduce their FoMO.
Table 4. Presence-related FoMO vs SNS Usage Context
Presence-related FoMO
SNS Usage Context
Fear of missing the ability to be
popular/fear of missing the ability
to get the right interpretation
Others do not interact as
expected
Fear of missing the ability to be popular: Presence features
could contribute to triggering this kind of FoMO in which
individuals are conscious of the presence of others on a
certain SNS but do not receive expected interactions from
them. For example, one participant commented: “I was on
a holiday, so I thought about catching up with my friends. I
sent WhatsApp messages to some of them expecting a reply
from those who were online but I did not receive any. I got
really anxious about missing any interaction with them
before so they might ignore me deliberately.
Fear of missing the ability to get the right interpretation:
This kind of FoMO could be triggered by the presence
feature. This can occur when people do not receive the
expected interaction and reactions from others. Hence, they
may become anxious due to an inability to get the right
interpretation and become confused about the situation. For
example, one participant who was wondering about not
receiving interactions from their friends said: “I posted
expecting good comments. However, I did not receive
anything from some of my friends who were online. So, I
thought that they were not commenting on my post because
they may not find the subject that I was tweeting about
interesting so may have ignored it. On the other hand, it
could be that they did not understand what I was talking
about and chose not to interact.” Users can try to satisfy
their curiosity by checking other SNSs to see whether their
contacts are responsive elsewhere on SNSs.
D. Sharing
The sharing feature allows people to exchange, distribute,
receive and share information including text, photos, audio and
video. This feature can persuade a number of types of FoMO
(see Table 5) and motivate people to change their online
behaviour; i.e. increase the time spent connected to SNSs.
Table 5. Sharing-related FoMO vs Usage Context
Sharing-related FoMO
SNS Usage Context
Fear of missing information due to the
large volume of information
Unable to interact or connect as
wished
Fear of missing information/events
due to multi following
Unable to interact or connect as
wished
Fear of missing a valuable opportunity
Having to or feeling a need to
engage in continuous untimed
interactions
Fear of missing information due to large volume: When
the amount of shares that people post on SNSs is abundant,
it may facilitate this kind of FoMO if individuals feel unable
to interact with it. Such a kind of FoMO can arise “when
individuals could not interact on a certain SNS due to a
given circumstance and also a large volume of posts such as
stories on Snapchat and Instagram. It is difficult to scroll
through them and pick out the ones that individuals really
want to see, which means that they may fear of missing an
important post.”
Fear of missing information/events due to multi following:
This can occur when the volume of sharing is considerable
and people are unable to interact with it due to the numerous
followings that they have and the shares resulting from
them. For instance, one participant stated: “I follow many
people on Instagram, many of whom post multiple times a
day. It is hard to keep up with all of the new information
and I worry I will miss important posts.”
Fear of missing a valuable opportunity: In this study,
sharing appears to trigger this kind of FOMO. This can
occur when the content of a share can be valuable and, thus,
people tend to be online in order not to miss such an
opportunity. For example, one participant commented that:
“There was a rumour about tickets becoming available for
a football match and it was deciding match between two
rivals. So, I kept checking the latest updates for available
tickets on the Facebook page in order to not miss this
valuable opportunity.”
E. Impression
The impression feature informs people how many individuals
react to their SNS shares such as the number of ‘Likes’ or
‘Retweets.’ This feature can trigger several kinds of FoMO
(see Table 6) and, thus, people may change their online
behaviour in order to give a good impression; i.e. people may
be preoccupied with how to make their online photo interesting
to give a good impression.
Table 6. Impression-related FoMO vs SNS Usage Context
Impression-related
FoMO
SNS Usage Context
Fear of missing the ability
to be interesting
Others do not interact as expected
Fear of missing the ability
to be popular
Others do not interact as expected
Fear of missing the ability
to retain followers
Unable to interact or connect as
wished
Fear of missing the
opportunity to know
others’ impressions
Having to or feeling a need to engage
in continuous untimed interactions
Fear of missing the ability to be interesting: Individuals are
concerned with the extent to which others are interested in
their content and messages. However, this feature may
trigger this kind of FoMO in which people “monitor the
number of reactions but if they do not receive the expected
reactions, they fear that their post is not interesting enough
to make others interact with it.
Fear of missing the ability to be popular: Participants in
the diary study and focus group sessions highlighted the
importance of the impression feature for gauging their
popularity among peers, especially when they do not see the
expected reactions. For example: “I did not receive ‘Likes’
on photos from a number of my friends as I expected. This
made me anxious as I feared I missed some interaction with
them recently which led to them ignoring me.” These
concerns relate strongly to impression management, in
which we are driven to manage how others perceive us and
to monitor our success in achieving our desired social image
[21].
Fear of missing the ability to retain followers: The
impression feature can trigger a fear of missing the ability to
retain followers when individuals do not receive
impressions from their followers regarding their post. As a
result of not getting the impression, they attribute this to the
lack of their activity on SNSs which makes followers
uninterested in their profile.”
Fear of missing the opportunity to know others’
impressions: Participants emphasised the importance of the
impression features in motivating them to be online in order
to know what others think of them. The impression feature
possibly triggers this kind of FoMO when people feel a
need to engage in continuous untimed interactions, fearful
of leaving a negative impression by failing to respond to
feedback from others. For example: “I posted a picture on
Snapchat so I constantly refreshed my Snapchat because of
the fear of missing what my friends said and it may need me
to respond and appreciate them for their impression.”
F. Delivery Report
This is a feature which confirms that a message has been
delivered and seen by the recipients. Such a receipt could be in
the form of checkmarks or a change in colour. For example, on
WhatsApp, when the message is delivered, two checkmarks
are placed under the message. Fear of missing the ability to be
popular can be triggered by this feature when individuals have
seen their message is delivered to a certain person or group
and is read but has not received interactions from them.
Delivery reports are designed in a basic form that does not tell
whether the message was accidentally checked and whether the
person is busy or planning to reply later. Such a lack of context
sensitivity makes such reports subject to misinterpretation and
FoMO.
G. Temporarily Available Content
This is defined as content that is available for a specific period
of time and then expires or is removed. This feature is a new
function and explored in terms of the functionality of SNSs. It
may trigger a fear of missing temporarily available
information, as evidenced by participants who mentioned that
temporary posts could motivate them to be online in order not
to miss this information. A participant stated: “I do not have
any 3G at the moment, so when I was on my break from work I
could not check social media. This led to a fear of missing my
friends’ Snapchat or missing stories on Instagram as these are
time-limited.This exploits the scarcity principle of influence
[13]. When this situation arises, individuals may be persuaded
to follow a deviant and undesired social interaction; e.g.
validating with friends via a phone call about such interaction
in order to mitigate this kind of FoMO.
H. Length of Messages
This feature shows the length of an audio message. It is a
new function and is explored in terms of the functionality of
SNSs. Such a feature may trigger a fear of missing timely
interaction when people are unable to interact or connect as
they wish, as evidenced by those participants who mentioned
that temporal events trigger this kind of FoMO. One
participant stated: I received a voice message on WhatsApp
from my sister, along one of 1.44 minutes but unfortunately I
was in a lecture. Due to the length of it, I was concerned it was
something important and, thus, I feared missing it.”
I. Notification
This is defined as the action of notifying people when a
message comes to them using a different tone. Frequent
notifications can trigger a fear of missing important
information due to being unable to check this notification (e.g.
I got a frequent notification when I was busy. Because of these
notifications, I feared that my friends thought I was being rude
by not responding. I also feared that I may miss something.)
J. Tagging
Tags are defined as a feature that allow SNS users to engage
an individual, business or any entity with a social profile when
they mention them in a post or comment. On Facebook and
Instagram, tagging notifies the recipient and hyperlinks to
the tagged profile. This feature may contribute in triggering
the fear of missing the ability to defend popularity by making
people experience this kind of FoMO when they are not
interested in being online. This kind of FoMO can arise when a
peer tags’ their friend on a certain SNS. Although the friend
may be unwilling to interact, this situation can act as peer
pressure and cause the friend to experience this kind of FoMO.
One participant stated: “An old friend tagged me in a tweet
today but I was unwilling to respond. After a couple of hours I
thought it might make me look bad to other people who may
have seen the tweet if I did not respond so I feared of missing
my popularity.” This reflects the normative influence principle
in which we feel pressure from peers to interact on a certain
SNS when we are unwilling to interact.
IV. ANTI-FOMO DESIGN OF SOCISL NETWORK SITES:
FEATURES AND CHALLENGES
Although on one hand SNSs are a medium for facilitating
FoMO, on the other hand they can provide usage regulation,
self-regulation and mindfulness tools to combat FoMO. Tools
to help with digital wellness are emerging; e.g. Apple Screen
Time and Google Digital Wellbeing. However, they are mainly
concerned with managing technology usage time and avoiding
excessive and unconscious usage. Such solutions are typically
time and usage management tools whereby the user’s
preoccupation with FoMO is left to the user themselves to
manage. In our previous study [18], we identified a number of
software-assisted mechanisms that can combat different types
of FoMO and can also be added to SNS designs. We present
some of those proposed mechanisms below:
Filtering: This mechanism enables individuals to classify
messages and notifications based on certain criteria such as
the topic and contacts involved. Thus, individuals can easily
estimate their subject and importance. Such a system is
currently used by some email systems such as Google
Gmail which classifies emails as Primary, Social and
Promotions, thus enabling individuals to identify
important emails more easily and reduce their FoMO.
Filtering mechanisms may combat the fear of missing
content and information due to a high volume of
information and reduce the time taken to search for
particular information.
Event and content recorder: This mechanism records
events and content while a person is offline to be viewed
when they are online again. Such a mechanism may help
individuals to regulate their fear of missing temporarily
available content. Individuals are less likely to fear missing
such content (e.g. stories on Snapchat or Instagram) if they
know they are able to view the stories the next time they log
on to SNSs.
Alternative notification: This mechanism allows people to
receive notifications from SNSs without having to use a
social media app; e.g. via SMS or a vibration on their
smartwatch. This technique may be useful for reducing the
compulsive behaviour of checking social media frequently
and procrastinating due to checking further content.
However, it may lead to habitual checking behaviours (e.g.
checking the smartwatch frequently) and, therefore, may be
of limited benefit for reducing FoMO.
Priority list/importance level: This mechanism helps
people to specify the level of importance and relevance to
topics or contacts so that they are better able to prioritise.
While FoMO in general leads people to stay online in order
not to miss out on the interaction with others, this particular
mechanism can mitigate some of the feelings of FOMO,
namely the fear of missing the opportunity to know
someone else’s impression or fear of missing the ability to
deal with different social media accounts and notifications.
Set status and time: This mechanism helps people to set
their current status and calendar availability in advance to
show their contacts whether or not they are online and
available to interact. People usually encounter a number of
FoMOs when social groups do not interact with them as
expected. However, setting a status and time may alleviate
the level of a certain FoMO for both parties.
Auto-reply: This is a technique that informs individuals
that a certain person is away in order not to expect an
immediate response from the person. In doing so,
individuals can set some form of auto-reply that sends an
automatic response to inform your messaging contacts that
an individual cannot respond immediately. This technique is
useful for people who are preoccupied with missing timely
interaction when they are unable to interact or connect to a
certain SNS and interact with their contacts.
There could also be another tool for use by groups of people
in order to combat FoMO. For instance, a group may
collectively agree to disengage from their social media for a
specific time period, either every day or for a period of time, as
in the case of a group of students who need to focus their
attention on studying for an exam. Expectations could be
managed by the group leader who could turn off posting. This
mechanism may help individuals to manage their FoMO in
relation to individual groups (e.g. fear of missing valuable
information in an online group when individuals do not want to
engage in each interaction). However, this mechanism may
potentially create conflict if people have different goals and
needs. This issue can be resolved by using a software-assisted
tool based on a negotiation approach.
However, in terms of how these mechanisms for combatting
FoMO are applied without negatively affecting user experience
and quality requirements, we argue that there are a number of
dilemmas that could be encountered:
Contacts’ lack of commitment: Some mechanisms should
be set mutually by contacts to minimise or regulate each
other’s FoMO. However, if those contacts do not commit to
set such a mechanism, they may generate a negative user
experience for other contacts. Although this issue could be
corrected by embedding persuasive techniques such as
rewards or badges (e.g. when certain individuals set a
certain mechanism regularly, they may be rewarded by a
new avatar), persuasive technologies may cause individuals
to experience frustration, anxiety, intense peer pressure and
guilt when they are not following the system [23]. On the
other hand, FoMO could be regulated by a moderator; e.g.,
the group moderator turning off commenting provided that
no other members had access to this feature
Fewer gratifications: Individuals select SNSs to gratify
their needs such as diversion, personal relationships and
surveillance. However, the ways in which such regulation
tools are applied may affect people's need for gratification.
For instance, individuals may choose to be a member of a
group on Facebook to feel a sense of relatedness (need) but
mechanisms limiting them from checking the group
frequently (such as turning off commenting) may lead to
them feeling less related to the group. However, this issue
can be dealt with by giving individuals suggestions based on
their profile data (e.g. alternative offline activities) that
could compensate for the lack of some of their gratification
needs. Thus, their fear of missing a sense of relatedness may
be reduced.
Increasing compulsive behaviour: Although tools can
regulate SNS usage in relation to FoMO, it is possible that
such tools may lead to other compulsive behaviours such as
using alternative notifications; e.g. SMS or a vibrating
smartwatch to help minimise compulsive checking of social
media and, thus, reduce screen time and procrastination
after the initial checking. However, it may lead individuals
to check their smartwatch regularly in order to see whether
they have any notifications. In this case, alternative
notifications have merely shifted the problem from SNSs to
the smartwatch as opposed to tackling the root cause of the
problem. Comparisons between peers using gamification
elements such as progress bars and points systems may also
shift the issue to the gaming domain where the problem is
trivialised and individuals have an alternative medium for
FoMO.
Information overload and increased social network
usage: Although we have suggested a tool to minimise
FoMO by recording temporal content, there is a danger that
this could increase the use of SNSs when individuals are
able to go online. If people use the event and content
recorder to regulate their FoMO when they check records,
they may encounter large volumes of events and content
recorded. This could lead to a fear of missing information
due to a large volume of information or periods of social
media usage increasing in length despite decreasing in
regularity. In support of this idea, individuals cutting down
on smoking smoke fewer cigarettes but smoke each
cigarette for longer, thus reducing the benefit gained from
smoking fewer cigarettes. Thus, this solution may reduce
FoMO but not social network addiction. However, the
former issue (FoMO due to large volume of information)
can be corrected by personalising the recorded content
according to individuals’ preferences.
V. CONCLUSION
In this paper we studied how the functionalities of SNSs
contribute to triggering FoMO in certain contexts of usage.
While SNS features may not be deliberately designed to trigger
FoMO and encourage greater interaction, they may, under
certain other contexts of use, inadvertently trigger it. Also, we
presented several mechanisms that can help to combat FoMO
and discussed challenges that could be encountered when such
mechanisms are applied. Our future work will be to provide
countermeasures for FoMO (both social and technical); e.g.
online peer support groups [24] in order to increase digital
wellbeing for SNS users.
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[Context & motivation] Digital Addiction, e.g. to social networks sites and games, is becoming a public interest issue which has a variety of socio-economic effects. Recent studies have shown correlation between Digital Addiction and certain negative consequences such as depression, reduced creativity and productivity, lack of sleep and disconnection from reality. Other research showed that Digital Addiction has withdrawal symptoms similar to those found in drug, tobacco, and alcohol addiction. [Question/problem] While industries like tobacco and alcohol are required by certain laws to have a label to raise awareness of the potential consequences of the use, we still do not have the same for addictive software. [Principal ideas/results] In this study, we advocate the need for Digital Addiction labels as an emerging ethical and professional requirement. We investigate the design of such labels from a user’s perspective through an empirical study, following a mixed-methods approach, and report on the results. [Contribution] Our ultimate goal is to introduce the need for labelling to both researchers and developers and provide a checklist of questions to consider when handling this non-functional requirement.
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