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Confirmshaming

The Dark Side of Web Design:
– confirmshaming –

by Frida Nyvall

Web design and web content can be a powerful tool strengthening your brand and voice by striking a certain tone, or making sure users are empowered to take the actions they want to.

Web design can however also be an equally powerful tool, when it comes to making users take actions by creating negative reinforcements. Using web design and web content in this negative way is called “confirmshaming”.

What is ”confirmshaming”?

Viciously pulling on strings to manipulate the visitor’s emotions in a negative way in order to evoke a specific behavior is a dark pattern in web design that has become more and more common over the years. The practice of making users feel bad by shaming them, bullying or being rude in order to manipulate them into for example signing up to a newsletter is known as “confimshaming”.

In short, confirmshaming is a very aggressive type of marketing, where the general idea seems to be that if the carrot doesn’t do the job, the stick will.

Who is using ”confirmshaming”?

The technique seems to be extra popular on sites where users might go to address or learn more about an existing concern – for example health, beauty, financial advice or relationships. However, it’s also very common among typical retails especially when trying to get users to sign up for newsletters.

A typical example is depicted below, where the sentence “I’d rather pay full price” could have been replaced by a much more neutral “No, thanks” which would not implicate that the user is missing out or is being an idiot for doing so.

Retailer Loft popup window

Other bad practices that often occur together with confirmshaming is hiding the “close” button or making it difficult to distinguish, for example by concealing it as a large text paragraph that is in turn shaming the user for not wanting to participate.

More typical examples have been collected on this tumblr account.

Why is ”confirmshaming” used?

Manipulative copy combined with making it difficult for users to find the close button will lead to an increase in sign-ups. Coming off as rude or mean doesn’t matter, because it’s worth more getting clicks and sign-ups that statistically counts as user engagement.

The companies using these kinds of methods basically state that they care more about profit than their customers. Bullying their customers is seen as an acceptable means to creating more sales.

Is ”confirmshaming” working as intended?

However, even if a rude popup might result in more clicks compared to a neutral popup when testing, one of the problems with confirmshaming is how disrespecting users will affect the company in the long run.

Showing this kind of attitude leads to a negative brand perception which in turn leads to a loss of credibility and trust among customers as well as potential customers. When it’s time to buy, customers will be more inclined to go to the seller that treats them with respect, rather than to the seller that insults them.

Being a bully might get you to the top in kindergarten, in your company/organization or in your family, but the tactic is not effective when it comes to trying to control a large number of customers.

Unlike when this type of behavior is used to influence people in a more contained environment, customers online can just close the browser tab and open another with a competitor’s website.

Should ”confirmshaming” be used?

There’s so much slander, harassment, trolling and bullying already for users to deal with on the Internet as it is. No point of adding yet more ways of creating discomfort or feelings of negativity.

In essence it is a question of how we want to treat one another – there will always be those who are ok with and enjoy being mean, spreading discomfort, trying to take advantage of and disregarding others as long as they get what they want. Our hope is that this article will contribute to creating awareness about these negative patterns, and how they can be avoided.

If you come across ”confirmshaming” online

If you run into confirmshaming online and feel that you want to do something about it, our recommendation is that you contact the person responsible for the website and point out that it is a negative behavior – for example by referring to this blog post.

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