Social media algorithms are censoring your news feed

atp-ceiling

One of the coolest thing about social media is how egalitarian it can be. Of course, that’s one of its greatest pitfalls as well. It can make some loon living in the woods seem as intelligent on a particular subject as someone with a gazillion phds on the same subject.

Social media has evolved to allow communication that was just not happening in mainstream media. People get to push their own agenda, rather than the big Mainstream Networks determining what everyone is interested in. The joy of social media, is that you don’t just have news that involves every single crime ever perpetrated by a non-white person. You’re not forced to watch MSM continually remind you that in cases of national disasters, mourning your own dead is the only type of story they are interested in.

It’s that kind of insular storytelling that social media pushes back on.

Instead of having stereotypes designed to drive hype, you have people presenting their own stories. You don’t have to have current affairs programs representing minorities in the most extreme version of themselves so that they seem like outsiders and not relatable people. Social media bridges the gap.

For some time Facebook has had their EdgeRank algorithm. I don’t know anyone who is a fan of it. Edgerank curates your feed and only shows you the stories that you are most likely to want to see. That’s the theory anyway.  Curates is a kind word.

EdgeRank is based on affinity, weight and time. Affinity is how connected you are to the creator. Friends, mutual friends and how often you are engaged with their content. Weight is based on how many comments and likes an individual post has and the fact that photos and videos are ranked higher than links. Time is how recent the content is. It’s supposed to hide boring content or content that you are not interested in from your feed. In theory.

But what it has actually done is something entirely different. It forces people to feed the machine. In order for people to stay connected with your page you have to have content that is likeable. Seems simple. Cream rises to the top, right? Or not. Because you put up a funny cat picture or a sunrise and that is easily likeable without much thought process going on.

People are forced to splice their own original content with things to keep their fans connected to their page. They have to regularly post content or their level of engagement will plummet. And although you might post a really thought provoking article and a whole lot of people click on it; if no one likes it, not that many people will see it on Facebook. Great content isn’t necessarily easily likeable, because it might be sad or confronting. Who is going to like that?

Facebook’s EdgeRank, combined with an inability to search along common topics, or have a hashtag system, is stifling the storytelling. Because no matter how great the machine is, it’s never going to be able to tell what you really want to see, it’s only guessing. It starts getting insular because if you don’t often connect with a page, you are never going to see it and then that really fascinating thing that they posted will be completely outside your radar.

The cool thing about Twitter is there’s no algorithm. You follow who you follow. You can curate via lists and hashtags and filters. You can choose whether you want to just check out what’s happening right now, or scroll on back through your stream.

Until now. Twitter is developing its own algorithm. They are going to start assigning a value to tweets. While at this point it is probably most likely to be used by developers in accessing the API, I think with the monetisation aspect of the strategy, it’s only a matter of time before it hits the mainstream.  I’m sure paid for tweets will have a high value.

Here is where social media begins to lose me. Censorship by omission. If there is a news agency with an agenda, or a computer with an agenda telling me what is important and what is not important, I lose the very value of the great communication tool that social media created in the first place. It becomes no more useful than mainstream media in telling me what’s going to kill me, who I should be afraid of, why immigrants are destroying the country and why Tony Abbott is not a misogynist because: DAUGHTERS. With tweets having values attached to them, I lose some voices and they are probably important voices. Just because twitter deems them as not that interesting, doesn’t mean that I will find them boring also. This means you start to lose the minority voice and twitter immediately loses its value.

Twitter will then follow the facebook route where you have to feed the machine. I will have to post cat vs printer videos so people might see some of the other things that I post. And while cat vs printer is freaking awesome, this kind of algorithm is pandering to the lowest common denominator, which is exactly what mainstream current affairs do.

Before this great communication medium goes horribly south, can someone please, for the love of storytelling and uniqueness, develop me a social media platform so I can make the radical choice not to screw it up.

Zoey is the Editor of The Shake. She lives in the middle of nowhere with two small children who are fond of clambering, destroying and/or stealing her computers and define level of fun according to volume of mess. Zoey is fond of taking photos, running and being not serious on the internet. You can read more here: www.zoeymartin.com.au

Comments

  1. says

    I hate the algorithm. I lose touch with what’s happening in friends’ lives because FB decides. I wish I could say I was thoughtful enough, or had time enough to catch up with everyone individually, but the beauty of FB was that all that stuff was just there for you to see. Not search. They give us something good and then break it. For money.

  2. says

    I actually think this will pave the way for things such as Flipboard. Have a look, your Facebook feed is completely different. If I’m in a hurry I use Facebook, if I want to have a proper look – I use Flipboard.

  3. says

    Oh my armageddon. I was so enjoying reading what you had to say and loving Twitter sick because it shits on FB’s screwed up agenda to (demonise breastfeeding and) make people more stupid…then I read that Twitter will get a motherfreaking algorithm! Why not subscription based revenue?? I’d happily pay an annual fee to use this brilliant medium. I did hear that FB will be getting hashtags… does that help at all? At all? :( Looks like we’ll be going back to passing out “pamphlets”* banged out in private backrooms, huh?

    *(See history of.)

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