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Engineering social networking to combat digital addiction: the case of online peer groups.

Alrobai, A., 2018. Engineering social networking to combat digital addiction: the case of online peer groups. Doctoral Thesis (Doctoral). Bournemouth University.

Full text available as:

ALROBAI, Amen Ali_Ph.D._2018.pdf



Digital Addiction (DA) denotes a problematic relation with the technology described by being compulsive, obsessive, impulsive and hasty. Recent research identified cases where digital usage shows symptoms of the clinical criteria of behavioural addiction. Peer groups approach is one of the strategies to combat addictive behaviours. It can provide a motivational and learning environment, and ambivalence reduction through sharing, counselling and mutual helping. Hosting peer groups online as a domain-specific social networking service can empower behaviour awareness and change communication including the case of combatting DA. Unlike other behaviours and their change mechanisms, DA as a problematic behaviour, and online peer group share the same space and operational modality. This can empower the online behaviour monitoring and the interaction towards combatting DA in a real-time and transparent style. However, building online peer groups platforms and customizing their functional and interactive features to fit the needs and characteristics of a specific group is a complex process. Also, this requires a careful theoretical understanding of these systems unique variables and attributes which include interactivity, anonymity, equity, profiling, presence and transparency. An ad-hoc design of such persuasive information systems may not only fail to achieve the desired outcomes but may cause significant harm, e.g. lowering self-esteem and counterproductive upward and downward comparisons, etc. As such, the goal of this thesis is to devise a method towards a better-managed design of this technology so that we increase its chance to combat DA. To achieve this goal, the thesis first takes an exploratory approach through several empirical studies including qualitative meta-analysis, qualitative user studies and observational investigations. The findings indicate that the design process of such systems should actively involve end-users to accommodate their needs and expectations and that the design shall have a customizable ecology. The findings were used to propose a method that supports the ability to adapt the scope and functionalities of an online peer group platform to fit various peer groups styles and dynamics with the aim of maintaining the validity and quality over the behaviour awareness and change programme. The method proposed in this thesis involves different roles (people with DA, counsellors, software designers), and has a participatory nature which is a natural fit to the spirit and remit of peer groups. The primary contribution of this thesis is twofold: i) a reference model for designing interactive online peer groups platforms to combat DA, ii) a method inspired by participatory design paradigm to customise the interaction environment for different groups. The method is evaluated in terms of its ease of use, comprehensiveness, appropriateness, and usefulness through a design case study. The results show the potential and applicability of the method in providing an enhanced design process for online peer group platforms to regulate DA in comparison to general purposes development methods which do not cater for the nuances and peculiarities of this particular user group, i.e. people with DA, and the peer group environment. A set of heuristics and guidelines are also derived. One notable recommendation is the recommendation to use the approach when dealing with moderate DA cases in ways that do not interfere with the decision- making about DA, but rather provide tools and platforms to facilitate taking those decisions effectively and in an informed style.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information:Please note the thesis title given on the attached PDF varies from the official thesis title ('networks' instead of 'networking'). If you feel that this work infringes your copyright please contact the BURO Manager.
Uncontrolled Keywords:digital addiction; requirements engineering; online peer group; cyberpsychology; human computer interaction; hci
Group:Faculty of Science & Technology
ID Code:30927
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:29 Jun 2018 12:28
Last Modified:09 Aug 2022 16:04


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