Patterns of Reversal

Enlisting Users Against Themselves


These types of patterns perform their deception in plain sight, as it were, through sophisticated confusion. Interfaces in this category are notable for the fact that the thing being disguised is not an object on the page so much as it is a whole semantic category: in these cases, the meaning of yes and no, red and green, selected and unselected, right and wrong, human and not.

Toggles that appear to be off when they allow communication and on when they prevent it.
Figure 16: "Which Switch?", posted by Twitter by user @tim_walters (Walters, 2018). This archetype presents a series of toggles that appear to be off when they allow communication and on when they prevent it.

To confuse users, the toggle slider does not work as expected, although it appears to. By convention, a toggle has two states—one end or the other—and functions like a switch in the sense that when it is in the off position, it is toggled off. In these examples, the off position means on, and vice versa.

Extreme Ambuguity

To confuse matters further, in this example the toggle slider does not work as expected. By convention, a toggle has two states: one end or the other, but this one has three states including an ambiguous middle. When one end is selected, however, that end isn’t highlighted, but instead it's completely obscured by the white square, on a white background making it effectively invisible.

Warning colors for the better option and safe colors for the poor choice.
Figure 17: "Red Is Safe," posted by Twitter by user @tom_hartley (protected tweet). This variant uses much of the same ambiguity as above, but adds warning colors for the better option and safe colors for the poor choice.

Rather than discussing one thing as another, or hiding something in plain sight, this kind of mêtis has transformed the very nature of what yes and no means, and here added what red and green means, what selected and unselected means. Many users could easily misinterpret these form elements and unintentionally enable the whole suite of marketing spam targeted at whatever poor inbox the user enters.

Ambiguous Identity

From a visual perspective, this example relies less on concealment and more on generating ambiguity. As in the case of misdirection, a visual hierarchy is established and used, but here it is consistent. The color green, representative of success or safety, is articulated with the yes answer (meaning to opt in), while the color red, representative of warning or danger, is articulated with the no answer (opting out of the marketing spam).

Meanwhile, in these variants, what is reversed is the user's identity. In order to become good, they must become bad, to be smart, they must affirm they are stupid, and so on. These variants turn the tables and set the users against themselves.

Pop-up stating that MyMedic would like to send notifications; the decline button reads: no, I don't watn to stay alive.
Figure 18: "No, I Prefer to Die," posted to Twitter by user @axbom (Axbom, 2021). This variant, in asking the user to affirm something absurd, turns them against themselves.
screenshot of website with pop-up reading: Click allow to confirm that you are not a human. Allow button allows notifications.
Figure 19: "Confirm You Are Not a Robot," posted by Twitter user @EliFitch (Fitch, 2019). In this highly dangerous pattern, the allow notifications button is passed off as a kind of reCaptcha prove-you-are-a-human type of challenge.

Two Choices?

In this final example, even the meaning of having a choice is reversed, and no choice is presented as having options, laughable as they are. Instead of canceling the free trial, the user is given the faux choice to cancel the cancelation either with a "No" or a "No, thanks."

This is a particularly brilliant choice, because the text could be interpreted to mean "No, thanks" to the free trial, and therefore "yes" to the cancelation, or at least there is some plausible deniability there.

Pop-up to cancel free trial with two buttons: No, or No Thanks.
Figure 20: "No or No, Thanks," posted by an unknown user. This variant reverses even the binary choice, presenting only a single choice that appears to be two.