Application of Emerging AI Technologies in the Defense Industry: A Background for a Proposed Software Development Focal Path; The Negative Consequences of Social Media Platforms on Young People: a Literature Review and a Discussion on Affordances in Social Media

Durrer, Kyle, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Fitzgerald, Gerard, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

This paper examines the current literature on the negative effects of social media on young people. It then discusses potential affordances that may elicit such effects, aiming to guide future research of social media affordances by applying a wider contextual lens. In the current age, social media has had a tremendous impact and adoption in such a short period of time relative to other technologies introduced into society. Like any technology, social media has been linked to several documented negative effects among young people, such as social media addiction, cyberbullying, and the spread of fake news. This paper explores whether these negative effects stem from the user, the user’s environment, the social media platform, or a combination of these factors. It aims to establish a connection between the negative outcomes and the platforms themselves by applying Davis’s affordance theory. This theory defines artifacts in terms of how they request, demand, allow, encourage, discourage, and refuse some effect from the user. Additionally, these potentially negative affordances will be accompanied with discussions about the ethics of such affordances. The paper is organized in the following order: summaries of different affordance theories, a literature review on the most common negative effects of social media on young people, an analysis of affordances of a feature on the Snapchat platform called ‘streaks’, an analysis of platform wide affordances on TikTok, and a conclusion on the generalized findings of applying this framework to the context of social media.

The paper begins with a brief review of several candidate affordance theories, including Norman’s, Gibson’s, and Davis’s theory. Ultimately, the paper adopts Davis’s theory of affordance as the primary framework for analyzing the research question. It argues that Davis’s framework is more comprehensive and effectively addresses how artifacts can lead to certain negative outcomes. Additionally, the paper suggests that, for the sake of the reader’s comprehension, Davis’s theory can be considered an extension of Norman’s theory. The paper then presents a brief literature review of some negative effects that social media has facilitated for young people, such as social media addiction, cyberbullying, and the spread of fake news. This literature review establishes what sorts of negative outcomes are possible for young people who use social media, which provides a good foundation for analyzing potential affordances that may elicit such negative outcomes.

The paper then explores two cases: the Snapchat streaks case, which exemplifies a fine-grained analysis of a specific feature, and the TikTok case, which discusses platform-wide affordances. In the Snapchat case, the fine-grained analysis allows for more detailed discussions on directly actionable solutions and the ethics surrounding the specific affordance. Conversely, TikTok’s discussion, which utilizes Davis’s theory to examine platform-wide affordances, effectively combines these affordances as part of broader research efforts into the study of social media affordances. It also offers tangible strategies to hypothesize platform wide strategies addressing the harmful affordances inherent in the platform’s design. Through the research conducted on TikTok’s affordances, one interesting perspective that emerged is the flow-state phenomenon, which describes how users become entranced by the application and experience time distortions. Additionally, alarming findings were uncovered regarding vaccination rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Utilizing Davis’s affordance framework simplifies the process of determining how a particular feature may request, demand, allow, encourage, discourage, and refuse one of the negative effects experienced by young users on social media. Once an affordance is hypothesized, this framework can guide the development of design changes that mitigate these negative outcomes.

The paper concludes by synthesizing the insights gained from employing Davis’s affordance theory to analyze social media's design and its impact on young users. In the first case study, the analysis of Snapchat's streak feature reveals ethical concerns, particularly around the buy-back option which could exploit users addicted to maintaining streaks. This raises significant ethical questions regarding design practices that may inadvertently foster addictive behaviors. The second case study offers a broader examination of TikTok, illustrating how a platform-wide analytical approach can inform strategic actions to mitigate negative impacts, even though it presents challenges in reaching definitive ethical conclusions. Through these analyses, the paper demonstrates the effectiveness of Davis’s affordance theory in not only guiding ethical evaluations and strategic decisions but also in fostering a deeper understanding of the roles social media platforms play in shaping user behaviors and outcomes. Ultimately, the paper argues that applying this theoretical framework can lead to more responsible product strategies, richer contextual understandings, enhanced ethical considerations, and the exploration of new research avenues in social media usage.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
social media, affordance theory

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Technical Advisor: Rosanne Vrugtman
STS Advisor: Gerard Fitzgerald
Technical Team Members: Kyle Durrer

Issued Date: