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Twitter the newest social networking site to introduce algorithms

How many people get on Facebook, and immediately start liking different things on your News Feed that peak your interest? Then you notice the next day that the page you liked the previous day has post up and down your News Feed. I experienced this today when I liked my friends’ posting about her first day working for Google. Now on my News Feed I have post that relates to all things Google.

In an effort to design our social media pages with more of the things we want to see and know about, and less of the things we don’t like or care about; social media platforms have created algorithms.

Algorithms – “A process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer”.

On sites like Facebook, Flipboard, Pinterest and some other sites the content that shows up in an individual’s News Feed is dictated by an algorithm. If someone Likes your Page or befriends you with a Friend Request you’ve simply started the first steps in creating algorithms for your News Feed as well as theirs.

There are 4 factors that determine what these social media platforms take into consideration when determining what algorithms users will see on their pages and News Feeds. These 4 factors include:

  • Type of Interaction (liking, commenting, or sharing; each of the three interactions has its own weight depending on the amount of effort it takes to perform the interaction)
  • Who made the interaction (how directly connected the user is to the poster based on manual friendship designations, closeness inferred by interaction, and other factors)
  • What time the post was made (time decay; News Feed deserves freshness)
  • Post popularity (if a post is losing the freshness edge because of time decay, but lots of people are still actively commenting on or sharing a post the engagement can trigger a hot topic bump [my name for it, not Facebook’s] that expands the post reach rather than letting it die)

Other social media platforms have recently caught onto this trend; Twitter being the most recent. Twitter released back in February their plans to add an algorithm component to their timeline. Unlike Facebook and Instagram where you can choose exactly the things you like to show up on your News Feed, whether it’s “Top Stories”, or post that you “Most Recently” liked. Twitter will choose for you the things that most people want to see, according to the people/ pages an individual follows (Whatever is most popular at that time).

However, some people argue that these algorithmic filters have completely altered the way in which we interact with the digital world, and to a certain extent I would have to agree, now that interaction is lacking in a major way and for some people it’s completely gone. Many companies are tailoring everything to our individual personalities, even down to simply things like words or our favorite colors. Eli Pariser who held a TED Talk conference warning social media users to beware of what he deems as “Filter Bubbles”. He explains that without the key component of embedded ethics, we as humans lose our sense of reality, which a machine (algorithm computer) simply cannot possess.

As social media users we risk living in a never-ending cycle of our comfort zones. Although a large majority of Twitter users don’t like the idea of the algorithm, there’s another majority who do, or are looking forward to experiencing these algorithms on Twitter for the first time. The idea is that since Twitter is a smaller platform for users that don’t really use it, i.e. Facebook users, the algorithm component will give them the best topics and stories to see on Twitter, with the hopes of converting them into repeat users of the site. I like the idea of the algorithm component on Twitter, especially since I’m a new user, however I believe that we as consumers need to lean into the discomfort of difficult topics, and start to have discussions surrounding them. Let’s face it, digitally, companies are relentlessly and purposefully catering to our every need, which could ultimately cause a demise in the digital world as well as in reality.

Jacqueline Miller @LoyolaGrad18

Emerging Media Graduate Student

Loyola University