Social Media Algorithms
Jan 05 2021
Technology has not always been an integral part of humanity’s lifestyle, but the last 20 years have seen substantial advancements in technology, and in more recent years, social media and its algorithms. They have not only evolved through the work of engineers and creators, but also by outside factors such as social movements, like the BLM protests. These protests, which seek to peacefully fight the racial injustices against African Americans, have recently been prevalent in social media and national news. People have chosen to express their opinion in different ways such as posting black screens, which is representative of support for the BLM movement. Another way is to post videos of the protests which raises awareness and encourages movements. During quarantine, online presence is important to spark change. And Social media are accustoming and changing much more than it has in the past years.
Social media feeds, Youtube recommendations, and other types of media both indirectly and directly expose the user to new information everyday. Facebook, like many other social media companies, capitalizes on specially crafted advertisements that target people based on their search history, while also introducing the user to similar people and contacts. However, it seems that Facebook’s engagement has been extremely low during quarantine, partly because the information is so crafted, it is difficult for people to see the truth. According to Rival IQ, It has dropped almost 14% and is consistently dropping by 2 times every week. On the other hand, Twitter is experiencing more success in engagement, as their rates have only dropped in March 7% and their posts have increased significantly in May. They are seeing this success because they are the most reliable social media source to be informed on the latest coronavirus news and BLM protests. The engagement rates will likely fluctuate, in this platform in the next months during the quarantine, though. However, in any social media platform the numbers are bound to change, and the companies must adjust accordingly.
In order to increase engagement, the social media algorithm must appeal to the individual viewer. So many companies use search history to generate recommendations and connect individuals with others with the same views. For example, if a user suddenly showed a particular interest in a vlogger that consistently attended BLM protests, the user would experience an influx of information about BLM through advertisements, videos, and even photographs. This process works for any interest, whether it be comedic content or political views. However, during quarantine, these engagement rates are not very high and it may be because the feeds do not pique enough interest. People may see the situations going on in the world but refuse to interact and conform to the predictions that social media makes about them. They can still find information and be passionate about a topic, but they do so in a different way than social media expects them to do, pushing the limits of the algorithm.
The algorithm may be crafted by people but to some extent, it may have a mind of its own. An engineer cannot possibly create a custom code for every user, but they can create a code that sets parameters and provides general instructions so that the computer itself can individualize the experience. The interests, searches, followers, and friends of the user are all factors that go into deciding the content introduced. Whether it is malicious or playful, the computer cannot decipher the difference and recommends it to the viewer. It is important to note that the program does not have a conscience and because of that may present information that is false or hurtful. The company has most of the control, however. They are being paid for the advertisements, even the ones that may cause harm to the people viewing their site. Facebook has recently been accused of spreading untrue information about the election through these advertisements. As a result, they have altered their algorithm and reporting function in order to increase their engagement and be looked upon more kindly.
Social media and its algorithms are a daily part of our lives now, whether you use it or not. As a diverse worldwide community, we must realize the issues occurring and how social media both supports and fights them. The algorithms may control the content we see, but the users are who really spread information. Be it false or true, people will always communicate their beliefs. As for now, it’s not face to face - it’s through a screen.