What many users of social media do not realize is they are the product being sold. More specifically, access to them (the users) is what is being sold.
Advertisers will spend mounds of money for access to specific people. The more specific, the more money those advertisers will pay.
So, naturally, it is in the best interest of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Medium, and Snapchat to keep users coming back. Ideally, more frequently and for longer periods of time. Additionally, it is important for those users to feel good about being on those sites.
Because, who wants to hang out where they don’t feel good?
So platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snap, and many others have developed and mastered the algorithm – which is a complex equation calculated by computers to show the users content they are most likely to want to see. This accomplishes two things: it keeps users on the site longer, and it makes them feel good because they’re seeing content they like.
The huge problem with this, however, is that eventually the algorithm has done such a good job at predicting what you want to see, it becomes the only thing you see.
Gone are long-lost high school friends who you only casually interested with. Same with brands or celebrities that you opted to follow.
Instead, your social media feed becomes exclusive to a very small percentage of your total interests.
Political interests and not only highlighted, but opposing views are nearly erased.
Entertainment interests are soon overrun with the popular acts, burying the lesser known names.
Friends and family are soon segregated between those you actively engage with versus those you have a more casual interest in — they never appear.
Soon, this echo chamber is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This weekend, I watched some videos of motorcycle racing and clicked on a few quotes by President Trump. Now my feed is overrun by extreme motorcycle videos and extreme right political content.
If I were not aware of the existence of the algorithm, I would believe that all of social media only exists to promote motorcycle racing and conservative policies.
Don’t believe me? Check out your spouse’s Explore tab, or Facebook feed, or “Recommended Reading”, or suggested content. I’ll bet it differs wildly from what you’re seeing on a regular basis.
We have competing interests when it comes to the social media platforms. They want us to stay longer- which means showing us content we like and filtering what we don’t like. That is how they make money. By selling access to you.
Friends, please, please, please be aware of this bias in the content you consume. This echo chamber exists, and will continue to get worse, unless we proactively look outside of the content that is selected for us.