Pros and Cons of the Social Media Algorithm Age

Algorithm Meaning

Before I can begin breaking down the pros and cons of social media algorithms, it’s important to know what an algorithm is. The dictionary definition is, “a set of rules for solving a problem in a finite number of steps …” If you apply that to the computer and its inner systems, it essentially means that there are directions the computer system has to follow in order to receive and process data. This set of instructions or algorithm plays a large part in how search engines and their results work. What you probably don’t realize is just how many things you wouldn’t be able to do on the internet without algorithms. For example, without an algorithm your email wouldn’t know where to go; your smartphone wouldn’t be able to function; and websites such as travel sites or GPS mapping systems would not exist and your social media accounts would be overwhelmed with content.

Social Media Algorithms

If you spend any time on a main social media platform such as Facebook or Instagram, you are experiencing the outcomes of an algorithm every day. If you think back to social media over the years, you might be able to remember how you viewed posts. Most likely you saw posts on your feed in chronological order, starting with the most recent post and working your way backwards. However, more recently, Facebook, Instagram and other social media channels have changed their algorithms to alter the image feed showing you prioritized posts. The algorithm prioritizes posts from groups that users care about.

After reading the above, you are probably realizing that algorithms are and can be a good thing. They are an incredibly useful tool that plays out in the background of your life, accomplishing tasks without your knowledge. However, some algorithms play a more prevalent role in your day-to-day activities, good and bad.

Pros

  • Targeted Social Media Marketing Ads:

  • You may have noticed that lately you are seeing ads for trendy shirts from your favorite store. It catches your eye, so you scroll through the products that are advertised. The next day you see the same or a similar ad. An algorithm is monitoring what you found interesting by how long you hovered over something, what you clicked on and other information it collects. This is useful because it allows you to create your own style, while finding products easier that you are actually interested in.

  • Relevant Family Content First:

  • Based on your behavior, Facebook or Twitter might put posts from your closest friends or family at the top of your feed because those are the accounts that you have interacted with the most. This can be helpful in keeping up with people who live far from you or that you aren’t able to see. The algorithm is working well in this case, as social networking was the original intent of social media platforms like Facebook.

  • Pertinent Content:

  • Whether it’s clothing, articles, videos or whatever else you are on social media to find, algorithms can be helpful in matching the best content for your interests. This helps you to waste less time on social media and spend more time on the information that fascinates you.

Cons

  • Addiction:

  • According to Forbes, social media platforms are designed to be as addictive as possible … For example, the average 16–24 year old spend three and a half hours every day looking at low-quality content such as clickbait articles or scrolling without a purpose.

  • Depression/Anxiety:

  • Evidence is growing for the argument that social media is causing unhappiness in people. As reported by the Child Mind Institute and quoted in several recent studies it has been found that teenage and young adult users who spend the most time on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms were shown to have a substantially (from 13 to 66 percent) higher rate of reported depression than those who spent the least time. Social media algorithms can play a part a part in showing you repeatedly the same type of content that you have been interacting with. So, if you’re going through a hard time and have been liking sad tweets, the algorithm will continue to show you more sad content.

  • Bias Media or Articles:

  • “They (social networks) align content and advertising around what the algorithm deems important to us. They stoke our cognitive biases, said or unsaid vulnerabilities. And they create engagement or activity around those things because they are extremely charged. As you share, others share back. And make no mistake, that’s all by design,” Brian Solis, digital analyst at Salesforce said. This can be dangerous in the realms of politics and social issues. Looking at one-sided information can cause closed mindsets and lead to division between people.

What Can You Do?

It is important to recognize that algorithms and your behavior on social media is driving the content that you see on a daily basis. While you have seen that this can be good because there is so much content out there that it could not manually be sifted through, you should also recognize some of the faults that exist within them. Seek out content that you wouldn’t normally, spend time pursuing different ways of thinking and look around for opportunities to expand your horizons.

Become aware of how much of your data is being given to these sites on a daily basis and then if that bothers you, you can change your behavior accordingly. Most people don’t know this, but you can actually change your social media privacy settings to restrict, as much information as possible, the data networks can gather from you. Remember that even if you do restrict your privacy settings on platforms, they can still collect and use what’s called “platform” data. This means they can still use the content that you read, like, click or hover over.

To conclude, algorithms can have a good and bad place in our world. So it is important to be thoughtful of how you spend your time on social media and find out how you can benefit the most from the social channels you are on.

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