Social Media Makeover

By now you or someone or everyone you know has watched The Social Dilemma. If you haven’t you should. It’s eye-opening. The purpose of the documentary is to educate you about how social media is affecting your life in profound and often undesirable ways.

There are many very, very smart people with amoral approaches to success using artificial intelligence to get and keep and sell your attention. They are not trying to make society better. They are trying to make money. They have a wide variety of tools and techniques that are bent to one purpose: to get and keep your attention.

The documentary The Social Dilemma paints this picture boldly. It uses, not ironically, similar techniques to social media itself such as cutaways, human interest, phrases designed to make you fearful, etc. They do this because it’s effective.

I bring this up because the documentary frames all these methods used by almost all social media platforms, as well as many others, as immoral but the fact that they’re all doing it belies the definition. It has become standard behaviour.

Okay. So, this brings me to the point of this month’s column: what can you do about it?

If you understand how the algorithm works you can use it to make your social media experience better.

When you’re using social media you need to keep in mind one overarching principle: what you pay attention to you get more of. The algorithm which is constantly being revised and refined has one goal: get and keep your attention and to keep you scrolling so you see more ads.

I’ll pick on Facebook for a minute as that’s the one most of us are on. Facebook has a news feed. Whenever you open Facebook or refresh the page, the algorithm sifts through your behaviour and all the items that could appear in your news feed: posts from friends, public posts, ads, etc. and tries to create a feed that you will want to scroll through.

You confirm the validity of the feed by interacting with the posts. Every post you pause on, click on, share, like, etc. increases the value of that kind of post. Click on your friend’s post about the latest ski touring trip and you virtually guarantee that you will get more posts from your friend, about ski touring and skiing in general, as well as ads for skis, outdoor equipment, ski vacations etc.

Okay, so here’s what you need to do. Don’t click on posts you don’t want to see more of. Use the [...] menu at the top right of each post. In order of increasing filtering: 1) Use Hide Post to see fewer posts like it. 2) Use Unfollow so that you won’t see posts by that person anymore. They remain Facebook friends, but you won’t see their posts. 3) Unfriend them if you never want to see their posts again. 4) In extreme cases you can block them. To do that click on their profile picture then use the [...] menu at the top right of their feed and Block them.

The difference between block and unfriend is that a blocked person can’t see you anymore either. You won’t see any post or comment by them and they won’t see yours. It’ll be like they don’t exist on Facebook.
Why do these things? Because it trains your feed. Using Hide Post, Unfollow, Unfriend, and Block will filter out those kinds of posts from your feed. It won’t just be that person or company, it affects to a lesser extent the categories that those posts fall into. They will now have a lower frequency score and you see less of them.

Conversely, if you want to see more of something then interact with it. Like it or react to it. Comment on it. Share it. Every time you interact with a post, including just spending a long time reading it, the frequency of those types of posts goes up for your feed.

Some discipline is required. We are all subject to reacting to things that affect us both positively and negatively. Not responding to the negative ones means Facebook won’t put more of them on your feed.
Keep it up. Be purposeful about it. After a week or two, you should notice that your Facebook feed is a lot less aggravating. Furthermore, because you are a data point for all of Facebook you will be making everyone’s feed a little bit better by flagging bad posts and users.