Apr 12, 2019

Steve Weber Explains How ‘Zombie Notifications’ Use Psychology to Drive User Engagement

From The Telegraph

‘Zombie notifications’ and the science of social media — how tech giants use psychology to trick us

By Olivia Rudgard

In years gone by, communities might have gathered at church or in the pub to share gossip, form friendships and update each other on their lives. Today, these two great institutions are in decline and instead we have the smartphone.

The little devices in our pockets repeatedly grab our attention, prodding us with alerts and bleeps all day and often all night too. In the decade or so since the creation of the smartphone, we have come to accept this as part of life, sometimes handing over whatever information we are asked for just to keep them quiet...

Steven Weber, a professor at UC Berkeley’s school of information, is unsurprised. “Facebook’s business model — it sells advertising. Everyone kind of knows that, but sometimes I feel like it’s not really fully understood, that is the core engine that drives the company, and so everything is about engagement with users, because that’s the fuel,” he says. "Data is like an intermediate product. The fuel that really drives it is your eyeballs on the screen...”

“People might express a little annoyance but ultimately that’s not the metric that they measure, the metric they measure is user engagement. So unless and until that annoyance translates into less user engagement, there’s no reason for them to really act on it,” says Weber...


Steven Weber is a professor at the School of Information and faculty director of the Center for Long Term Cybersecurity.

Last updated:

September 27, 2019