Social media algorithms are the worst, but let’s talk about the most-overseen reality in this.
We can probably all agree on blaming social media for a lot of things that go wrong in this world. We heard about the alleged collusion of Republicans with Russians, we got upset about sh*tstorms, and we might have stirred up some controversy with our comments and posts.
And those of us who are authors have been suffering because nobody gets to see our posts.
But let’s take a moment to look at an uncomfortable truth about algorithms: let’s take a look at our own feed.
As we found out last year, algorithms have the main goal of making us spend more time online. Social media tries to show us content that gets us hooked and also triggers us into endless arguments with strangers.
It’s pretty easy to get into a fight with folks we didn’t meet in real life for years. It’s even easier to post a controversial statement and get attacked by angry commenters. And it’s tempting to watch clips of puppy dogs for hours.
Let’s not forget that social media might encourage this type of behavior, but at the end of the day, it’s our decision to give in to these kinds of actions.
While it’s our choice what we post, it seems to be outside of our control what we get to see—but that’s actually wrong. Algorithms are trying to predict what we care about, and they are pretty good at that.
Let me give you an example. I have this friend who keeps posting stuff that I would consider as conspiracy theories. We all have at least one of these friends. I have to admit that I often click on what they share—just out of curiosity. The result of my curiosity is that the algorithms keep showing me these kinds of posts.
I am not a huge fan of gossip, but I wrote a few articles about the Royal Family, the Kardashians, and other celebrities. After doing some research, the algorithms thought that I was into that type of content and kept throwing more gossip at me.
Our feeds all look pretty different, but they have one thing in common: they show us who we are. Here are three examples:
1. You can fool your friends by posting sophisticated content on your timeline, but the algorithms know that you actually love to watch puppy dogs in slow motion.
2. You can pretend to care about social justice and reading stories on activism, but the algorithms know that you are actually feeling lonely and want to date someone.
3. You can share all your reasons why you think that everyday racism doesn’t exist, but the algorithms know that you are actually repeating talking points of Tucker Carlson—and that’s why you keep seeing his clips.
Of course, these algorithms are tricking us. They try to trigger certain behaviors. They are designed to make us waste our time. But we also have to take responsibility for our own actions.
It’s far too easy to blame an algorithm after watching TikTok clips for hours. It’s a nice excuse to blame algorithms for getting agitated and angry. And it’s super convenient to blame algorithms for the shallowness of social media.
But if we keep seeing content that we do not appreciate, let’s ask ourselves, “What made these algorithms think that I like this stuff?”
And please don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with watching clips of puppy dogs. There is nothing wrong with online dating. It’s also fine to watch the Kardashians.
But please stop complaining that you don’t see high-quality journalism pop up on your feed if you never click on it.
There is a lot of good stuff on the internet. It’s like the biggest library in history, but unfortunately, some areas of this library have more visitors than others.
The next time you blame algorithms for the success of life coaches, pyramid schemes, and questionable influencers, please ask yourself who made this type of content so popular in the first place.
Let’s change that.
May it be of benefit.