I hate algorithms when it comes to social media. Why? It subtly changes your behavior, generally for the worse, it lowers your self esteem, and is inimical to your creativity! Let me explain:
First of all, what’s an algorithm?
I define algorithm as:
A computer code which prioritizes certain information.
In my eyes, technically anything can be an algorithm (set of rules). But for practical purposes, I’ll refer to the algorithm of “personal recommendation” algorithms, targeted advertising, Facebook/Instagram news feed algorithms, etc.
Okay let’s talk about Facebook, the ultimate social media behemoth which controls more of our social lives than we think.
First of all, I don’t think Facebook is unethical as a company. I still have my Facebook and don’t really plan on deleting it. I deleted my Instagram, which I will describe later why.
Anyways with Facebook, you have a dilemma: there are billions of pieces of content and information being shared every second. How do you prioritize certain types of information for every specific user?
This is done with the “Facebook news feed algorithm”, which attempts to serve you only content that you might be interested in; whether it be news from your friends and family, or products you might like to purchase.
Now, Facebook is quite good at this. Why? They got a shitload of data on you (which we agree to give to them when we sign up for their service). Facebook knows if you’re married, if you have kids, what your personal interest is, how quickly you scroll through your news feed and linger on certain posts, etc.
If Facebook knew that I liked Vanilla ice cream, of course Facebook wouldn’t put articles on “Why chocolate ice cream is the best” in my news feed. It will only show me articles which tell me why vanilla ice cream is the best. This is called a “filter bubble”; we’re only stuck in a bubble of our personal preferences, via the Facebook news feed algorithm filter. This is why Democrats will only get liberal news in their news feed or why Republicans only get conservative news in their news feeds.
The “filter bubble”
Now this is dangerous because it exposes us to only things we already believe in, and doesn’t allow us to “think outside the box” or to see differing opinions.
Now I’ve been able to combat this a bit myself (I’m a Liberal Democrat) by reading opposite opinions. I’ll often check out Fox news or zerohedge.com if I need a counter opinion to current events to figure out what’s “really happening”, instead of just listening to what my liberal friends say on Facebook and Twitter.
So first of all, the problem with Facebook and news feed algorithms is that we get stuck in a “filter bubble”, and we get a distorted view of reality.
As a result, this makes us less empathetic to other people and their opinions.
For example, I’m anti Trump, but I don’t necessarily think people who support Trump are dumb. They just have different reasons, and that’s okay! I like vanilla ice cream, and they like chocolate ice cream. We can both live together in harmony, and we’re both humans! (Vanilla ice cream is analogy for Liberalism, Chocolate ice cream is analogy for Conservatism). Perhaps Matcha green ice cream can be the Green party, and Burnt Caramel ice cream can be radicals/revolutionaries.
Read the “filter bubble” book for more information on this, or any literature by Nicholas Carr.
2. We are more afraid
With algorithms that serve us only sensationalist news, this fucks up our world view. We get scared.
The reason I don’t like Google Chrome or the Google Search App is this: you’re fed (against your will) these “articles for you” module, which are websites that rely on Google Adsense advertising, which are very clicky.
For example let’s say I want to Google something, like “Why doesn’t Kanye West have an Instagram?” I open up Google Chrome, and suddenly I see a related news article on why Kanye supports Donald Trump. I’m confused, intrigued, and curious and end up clicking the article. Now I’m distracted and get distracted for the next hour or so. My intentional action gets circumvented. My attention and focus gets scattered.
Now imagine this happening to me 20 times a day. Of course I’m not gonna be able to focus! I’m letting all these sensationalist and inane articles (which really isn’t relevant to me) distract me!
That’s why I don’t use Google Chrome; I use Safari for Apple. If you use Android just use the default Samsung browser, or install Firefox.
And all this negative news will make us more afraid of foreign affairs, and end up making us more afraid of the “other”; more suspicious of Islamic folks, Middle Eastern folks, Russians, or anyone else who the media says we should be afraid of.
To rid yourself of these algorithms, basic ideas:
- Install advertising blockers on your laptop, phone, etc: Adblock Ultimate, Disconnect, Ghosterly, Crystal adblock for iPhone and iPad
- Be suspicious of any website that relies on web advertising via Google ads to make a living: It’s in their best interest to get you to click on more ads, and thus their content is more likely to be tainted.
- Don’t use YouTube Logged in: You’ll get addicted to their recommended videos function. It’s almost too good and accurate. Not good for focusing.
- Uninstall Facebook from your phone: If you want to use Facebook, use it on your laptop, and also install “Facebook news feed eradicator” and “Facebook demetricator” browser plugin/extensions.
- Block distracting website elements: use adblock Ultimate and use the button to select certain “website elements” to block. I’ve done this to block page view numbers, as well as related videos module on YouTube.
Addiction is good (for them)
For YouTube, Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc; the more addicted you are, the better!
The more addicted you are to their platform the more likely you will click on advertisements and give their platform money.
This isn’t evil per-se, but it certainly ruins our life. It makes us more fearful, distracted, and unmotivated. If I’m getting served 20 articles a day on why North Korea is going to end the world, why Russia is evil and hacking us, why Donald Trump is ruining America and the world, etc; of course I’m going to become more negative and pessimistic!
The practical advice is this:
Cold turkey the news. If you need news just ask your friends what is going on. They will be biased but still better than having a big corporation control your thought patterns.
And my buddy Nassim Taleb says,
To cure yourself of the news, spend a year reading the news from last year.
Never forget: hope is dope!
For more learning, read “10 arguments for deleting your social media accounts right now” book by Jaron Lanier