Why You Shouldn’t Use Fleets

Isn’t that a cute, innocent little birdey?

As some of you may know, the Twitter gods have recently deigned to bless us with another new feature. No, it’s not an edit button. That would be far too convenient. And no, it’s not another pointless UI change. I guess even the Twitter gods, in their infinite patience, get sick of those. It’s a new feature called “fleets.” And it’s really, really bad. Allow me to explain.

A Walk Down Fleet Street

First things first, what the hell are fleets? Well, Fleets are basically Twitter sitting home on a Sunday night, realizing their assignment is due tomorrow and then copying Instagram’s homework. Just like Instagram’s “Stories” Fleets, once posted, will stay up for 24 hours after which they disappear never to be seen in the land of the tweeting again.

So why are they so bad? Well, as many things do, it all comes down to moustache-twirling Silicon Valley oligarchs and simple psychology.

The Psychology of Twitter

As a psychology student one of the first things I learned about is the human reward system. All humans (and other animals) have an internal reward system, you see. Certain things feel good to us and when things feel good, we will do that thing more often afterwards. Whereas when things feel bad we will do that thing less often afterwards. When something makes us take an action more often, it’s a reward. When something makes us take an action less often, it’s a punishment. This is what social media in general wants to play into. It wants to reward you for using it and punish you for not using it. So how does it do this?

It uses social rewards.

All humans, according to a well-substantiated psychological theory called “self-determination theory”, have three basic needs: the need for competence, the need for autonomy and the need for relatedness. Social media uses these needs, especially the need for relatedness which pertains to feeling a connection with other human beings, to get us addicted to it.

It does this through simple replies, through retweets and through likes. Which are, essentially, a direct shot of dopamine straight into our brains. As a result we learn to engage in that behaviour (using the app) more and more often.

But that’s true for all of social media. But why are Fleets particularly bad? Because, in addition to all the other basic needs social media uses against us, there’s a 24-hour time limit.

Why Fleets Are Bad

A time limit, naturally, means that if you do not check social media within the alloted time, you will not be able to see the post. Not seeing or being able to interact with the fleet means not getting the associated social reward. Missing out on that feeling of connectedness it allows you to experience: not being able to reply to it, not being able to get likes for your replies. This is not something we humans like. We don’t like to miss out on rewards.

This relates to a concept of “FOMO” or “fear of missing out.” This is a feeling we humans get because we fear experiencing regret. And we usually believe we may experience regret if we do not engage in activities that reward us which we could have participated in. And… what activity might this describe? An activity which we could participate in, which could make us feel rewarded and connected, but which we may miss out on if we do not check social media every 24 hours?

Yeah, that’s right. Fleets, even more than the rest of social media, are FOMO machines. They motivate us to check social media every 24 hours and reward us if we do, but punish us (through FOMO) for not doing this.

This is a powerful combination of tools. A huge, fresh carrot for luring and a big honkin’ stick Jack is prepared to hit you with.

Twitter Wants Your Eyeballs, At Any Cost

So if this feature is so bad, why did Twitter introduce it? Well, that’s not a hard question to answer. It might be bad for you because it essentially compels you to check social media or feel bad about it, but it’s really good for Twitter. Because it means that you will no longer only be checking your social media every few days (if that was your habit). No, you’ll be checking it every 24 hours at least. Probably more, since this behaviour is extremely habit forming.

And once you start checking fleets, well… you may as well check them all, right? Otherwise some of them will be gone by the next time you get online. And you wouldn’t want to miss out on all that dopamine, would you?

You checking social media more often and for longer means more time spent in the app, which means you see more ads, which means Jack can buy a nice new yacht. Unfortunately, it’s a yacht bought at the expense of your mental health and your productivity.

The Solution?

So what can we do about it? Aside from getting out the torches and pitchforks, we can choose now, immediately, before we start forming the habit to NOT participate in Fleets. If you don’t get started on them you don’t start getting used to the reward, you don’t feel punished, and you don’t form a habit.

And if absolutely nobody participates in it, then there’s nothing to fear missing out on. And then, hopefully, Twitter will stop its consumer-unfriendly behaviour because it won’t make them any money. And that, in my mind, is really the only way to go.

Original version of the image used in the header (sans teeth) available here. All credit to its original creator.

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