Algorithmic prioritization is a growing focus for social media users. Control settings are one way for users to adjust the prioritization of their news feeds, but they prioritize feed content in a way that can be difficult to judge objectively. In this work, we study how users engage with difficult-to-validate controls. Via two paired studies using an experimental system - one interview and one online study - we found that control settings functioned as placebos. Viewers felt more satisfied with their feed when controls were present, whether they worked or not. We also examine how people engage in sensemaking around control settings, finding that users often take responsibility for violated expectations - for both real and randomly functioning controls. Finally, we studied how users controlled their social media feeds in the wild. The use of existing social media controls had little impact on user's satisfaction with the feed; instead, users often turned to improvised solutions, like scrolling quickly, to see what they want.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCHI 2018 - Extended Abstracts of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
Subtitle of host publicationEngage with CHI
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
ISBN (Electronic)9781450356206, 9781450356213
StatePublished - Apr 20 2018
Event2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI 2018 - Montreal, Canada
Duration: Apr 21 2018Apr 26 2018

Publication series

NameConference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - Proceedings


Other2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI 2018


  • Control settings
  • Placebo effect
  • Sensemaking
  • Social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


Dive into the research topics of 'The illusion of control: Placebo effects of control settings'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this