CHI NL Read: Social Media Detox

Hello everyone! We are very pleased to have Aditya Kumar Purohit showcase his upcoming CHI 2023 paper with us, titled “Starving the Newsfeed for Social Media Detox: Effects of Strict and Self-regulated Facebook Newsfeed Diets“.

[Reading time: 4 min.]

Person using facebook
Facebook use on Desktop and Mobile. Photo credits: LUCA SAMMARCO/PEXELS

What’s your name?

Hi, my name is Aditya Kumar Purohit.


Aditya Kumar Purohit, Kristoffer Bergram, Louis Barclay, Valery Bezençon, & Adrian Holzer (2023). Starving the Newsfeed for Social Media Detox: Effects of Strict and Self-regulated Facebook Newsfeed Diets. In proceedings of the CHI ’23: Proceedings of the 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. April 23–28, 2023, Hamburg, Germany. ACM, New York, NY, USA, DOI:10.1145/3544548.3581187.

TL;DR (if you had to describe this work in one sentence, what would you tell someone?):

This paper explores how a reduced newsfeed affects users’ experiences and their time spent on Facebook. 

What problem is this research addressing, and why does it matter?

Infinite newsfeed is an attention-grabbing dark pattern that prolong users’ time on social media. Facebook’s newsfeed design has a fatal flaw: once a friend request is accepted, individuals become friends, but also follow one another by default creating an endless cycle of content on the newsfeed.

How did you approach this problem?

We created a chrome extension called “unfollow” which allowed users to automate unfollowing the friends, pages and groups. We created three diet conditions 1) No diet (No changes in the newsfeed) 2) Strict diet (Not allowed to follow friends, pages and groups after the unfollow process) 3) Self-regulated diet (Allowed to follow friends, pages and groups after the unfollow process). The unfollow intervention was a truly cross-device intervention that spread to all devices such as smartphones, iPads, etc.

Experimental design of the unfollow experiment
Experimental design of the unfollow experiment

What were your key findings?

Our results indicate that both strict newsfeed and self-regulated newsfeeds are effective at reducing the time spent on Facebook’s platform. There was 64% reduction in time spent in the strict diet and 39% in the self-regulated diet. Furthermore, our results indicated that neither the time spent on Facebook website or mobile-app during the baseline period or compulsive score did not predict the change in time spent on the Facebook site or mobile app. Also, we found that the efficacy of the strict and self-regulated newsfeed diets are not impacted by more and less compulsive users.

We also conducted thematic analysis and found that the users in the strict newsfeed diet condition report significantly more negative user experience than the no diet condition. However, the users in the self-regulated diet do not experience more negative user experience than the no diet condition, but they experience significantly less negative user experience than the strict newsfeed diet condition.

occurrences within themes across experimental conditions
Occurrences within themes across experimental conditions

What is the main message you’d like people to take away?

Allowing users to self-regulate their newsfeed is a better approach as it decreases the time-spent on the platform while not impacting user experience negatively.

What led / inspired you to carry out this research?

In the past, researchers have tried to hide the newsfeed or introduce friction while scrolling. Nevertheless, external intervention approaches like these are limited and fail to mitigate the true cause of infinite newsfeed.

What kind of skills / background would you say one needs to perform this type of research?

The use of an interdisciplinary approach is very beneficial. For designing the experiment, it would be very helpful to have skills in web development and Python scripting, as well as knowledge and experience with qualitative and empirical research methodologies.

Any further reading you recommend?

  • Aditya Kumar Purohit, Louis Barclay, and Adrian Holzer. 2020. Designing for Digital Detox: Making Social Media Less Addictive with Digital Nudges. In Extended Abstracts of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA ’20). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1–9.
  • Purohit, Aditya Kumar, Torben Jan Barev, Sofia Schöbel, Andreas Janson, and Adrian Holzer. “Designing for DigitalWellbeing on a Smartphone: Co-creation of Digital Nudges to Mitigate Instagram Overuse.” 2023. Proceedings of the 56th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Hawaii. Link to download

Your biography

I am a Postdoctoral Fellow at Radboud University. From an interdisciplinary perspective, my research examines dark patterns. In particular, I develop and run experiments evaluating dark patterns in relation to law (Unfair Commercial Practices Directive – European Commission), human-computer interaction, and fair patterns for businesses. 

Before embarking on my doctoral program in 2018, I worked as an analyst for Amazon and Hewlett Packard for 3+ years. I received my PhD in Information Systems from University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland in 2022. During the PhD my research focused on digital wellbeing and health employing a mix methods research methodology. This research resulted in several articles that were published in prestigious conferences in the fields of HCI and information systems.  

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or research opportunities related to HCI and Behavior change!

Follow me on Twitter, or join my network on Linkedin 😊.

CHI NL Read is a regular feature on the CHI NL blog, where board members and blog editors Lisa and Abdo invite a member of CHI NL to showcase a recent research paper they published to the wider SIGCHI community and world 🌍. One of the ideas behind CHI NL Read is to make research a bit more accessible to those outside of academic HCI.

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