One thousand, two hundred and eight. That’s how many people I follow on Twitter. But I’ve found that somewhere between five hundred to a thousand follows is ideal for signal and serendipity, so it’s time for a cull. I open Twitter, head to my “Following” list, and began scrolling. Ahh, here’s someone I won’t miss (or haven’t noticed). Tap. Oh. I have to tap twice to unfollow someone? The same asymmetry exists on Facebook as well: one action to “like” a page, two to “unlike” it.
In a single instance, the cost of that extra action is minute. But multiplied a few hundred times, it’s annoying. I wonder why it exists? Why is it twice as much effort to remove someone from your feed as it is to let them in? I was willing to be benevolent, thinking that maybe it is a design flaw, a default value that is a remnant from the early days. But having thought more on it, it seems to be a tiny instance of a dark pattern. “Dark Patterns are tricks used in websites and apps that make you buy or sign up for things that you didn’t mean to.” True, making it harder to unfollow than it is to follow isn’t forcing you to buy something or sign up to anything. But it is making it harder to extricate yourself from the tentacles of that particular service.
If we frame every like or follow as a sunk cost, a statement of expectation that the person followed will provide value, then it becomes apparent that the more people you like or follow, the more invested you are in that particular stream, and the less likely you are to abandon it.
A subtle trick from the denizens of social media, but an effective one, nonetheless.