The words social media algorithms can summon scary and parasitic images in a person’s head, despite not knowing entirely what those words entail. As humans, we are designed to fear what we don’t understand. So, in this article, I intend to explain what algorithms used by social media sites are so that we no longer need to fear them.

What is a social media algorithm?

Instead of a person’s social media feed being sorted by the chronological time in which a post is published, companies can use algorithms to organize the posts that appear on a person’s social media feed by what the algorithm deems to be relevant to their interests. For example, an algorithm may cause a person’s close friends and family to appear more frequently on their timeline which an algorithm can gauge judging by how much time a user spends interacting with another user on that site. Another way an algorithm can be used is if a person has been searching particular subjects in the tags available on the social media site. So if someone has recently and frequently searched for makeup on the site then an algorithm will recognize this and as a result, posts that have been tagged with or are about makeup will then take the president on a person’s social media feed.

An Example using Instagram

Just think about Instagram statistics. The popular social media site has around one billion monthly users which are even more than other social media giants such as Twitter which only has 69 million users per month. That is far too many posts and users for an individual person to sort through and check on to make sure that person is receiving content relevant to their interests. This is why in some cases social media algorithms can be useful as they sort out low-quality or irrelevant posts on a person’s feed so that they don’t need to see them. It helps to make the site more enjoyable and tailored to the user making them want to use it more. Instagram themselves stated on their Twitter that as a result of their algorithm “your feed is personalized to you and evolves over time based on how you use Instagram”.

Are They Becoming Too Advanced?

Users of these social media sites, which at this point in time is most of us, have a right to be worried about why and how their profiles are used by these algorithms. It can be scary to think that data can be used to create such an accurate analysis of us that it is able to determine and predict what sort of content we would like to interact with. Some scientists did a study to see if constantly seeing positive posts and videos which in turn recommended more positive posts would then make us create more positive posts. Or more worryingly to see if having constant exposure to negative posts would make users in turn create even more negative posts ad well as what effect this would have on a person’s overall psyche. Whilst their evidence did seem to support this theory, their experiment however did have a very small sample size causing many to call their findings unreliable.

They Are Not Perfect

Whilst algorithms used by social media outlets are designed to give the user content based on what is deemed relevant to them, there are of course faults in this. Just think back to whenever you have come across a video in your YouTube recommended section and wondered why on Earth it had been recommended to you. Because at the end of the day no algorithm is going to be perfect which is something that we can all relate to, so there is no need to fear their use. At the end of the day, even if a post or video is recommended to you, it is still your choice if you decide to interact with it nor not. And some sites like Facebook and Twitter will allow the user of choice whether they want the content that is shown on their feed to appear in the chronological or recommended order. So, if even if after this article they still unnerve you then you have the option to opt-out of their use.