Everyday millions of people surf Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Vine; many if not all of us form a reaction from what we see upon our screen whether it is good or bad. Our reaction depends on what actually appears on our social media outlet, and what we see is filtered by an algorithm. The way an algorithm operates is it refines what appears based upon the people we are friends with, the articles we link to and share, the tweets we favorite, and the posts we create. Some people are disturbed by this and feel that the information they receive is now limited, meanwhile other people, including me, actually appreciate this. In my opinion I follow the people I follow for a reason, I favorite the tweets I like for a reason, and I share articles I think people would benefit from for a reason. Therefore I am the one limiting my information because of my actions on social media.
One of my major social media addictions is Instagram. For me I don’t like to read the articles in magazines, but I love looking at the pictures, so Instagram for me is just like that, except there’s no risk of a papercut. On Instagram I follow many different accounts because they appeal to me. Many of the accounts I follow are fitness accounts, they post tutorials for workouts at the gym, they have inspirational quotes that make me want to work out, and they post pictures of fit people who work out every day and they serve as my motivation. The accounts I follow don’t tell girls to starve themselves, but to eat right and exercise. Instead of having to deal with users and accounts that make me insecure about my body, I get to follow these accounts and filter out the bad ones.
A place where I get to interact with friends and family is Facebook, there we can all share articles, upload pictures, and make posts. Therefore I am limited to see only what my friends post. Some days I see friends struggling or making bad decisions in their life, other days I am uplifted by good news and humorous posts. Just this previous Monday my mom sent me a link on Facebook of a goat dressed up in a sunflower costume, not only was it hilarious, but it made my Monday better. Here’s the link if you want to make someone’s day – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKVioHC8CYY. Now imagine if things were reversed and we as Facebook users were exposed to all of the other millions of users on Facebook. What would we see? We would be exposed to unnecessary information that doesn’t interest us. I as a user of Facebook appreciate the filter that is expressed by an algorithm because it takes into account what I appreciate seeing and what I don’t.
Another site I visit daily is Pinterest, a place where I can create a board for my perfect future, pin my goals, and like my dreams. What I mean by that is I get to save items to my account that perk my interest. On this site I typically pin things for my wedding that may never happen, for my house that might never be built, or for the closet I may never own. Based upon what I pin, Pinterest will create a home page for me that includes items that the people I follow pin as well as items that say “Picked for you”. That is not only the handy work of an algorithm, but it is also the work of me because what appears depends on what I pin. Nine out of ten items that appear on my home page I pin because this algorithm understands me, I appreciate not having to sort through hundreds of items just to find something I like. The work of an algorithm is only successful with the work of an individual, the two have to work together to achieve satisfactory results.
One last site I will mention is home to many debates, discussions, and social venters. Twitter. This site perhaps makes me appreciate algorithms the most, because here celebrities attack each other, political figures debate with one another, and people vent their emotions every thirty seconds meanwhile pretending like people actually care. Thankfully I have the ability to avoid it all because of the people I follow. Those that I follow are yet again my friends, fitness accounts, and inspirational accounts. The only suggestions that algorithms make is who to follow based off of who I currently follow. In the end I still have the choice to follow them or not. The individuals that I do follow typically tweet jokes, updates, impactful quotes, or bible verses; all of which help to uplift me and make my day better. The feeling I have after getting off twitter is simply a closer connection to my friends despite the fact that we are all miles and miles apart all attending different colleges. I am typically in a better state of mind because the jokes people tweet take away the stress I carry from day to day. Usually I learn a thing or two from people updating me on news in the world or in their own lives. Lastly, I feel a better spiritual connection with God because of those who tweet bible verses remind me that my day and my life should center on God who has brought me here in life. If it wasn’t for an algorithm I would be exposed to people who are irrelevant to my life versus the people who actually matter in my life.
I would like to close by saying yes, algorithms do limit what we see, but in a way that is beneficial to us and to me. Without algorithms our experiences on social media would be drastically different and not in a positive way. At the end of the day algorithms base their findings upon what we show interest in, so is it really an algorithm or is it us that limit what we see? The answer is both, the two of us work together to create social media that conforms to us versus us having to conform to it.