You are what you repeatedly do whether you’re a human or a machine.

As companies are on a permanent quest to out-perform the ever-evolving social media algorithms, these systems designed to recommend more of what we like, are pushing us into bubbles of similar and self-referential content while shaping us in more ways than we might immediately realize.

Photo by Kon Karampelason Unsplash

One of the side-effects of this pandemic made us rediscover is the power of internet in its more original form and intention, as a connective tissue underlying institutional societies.

This tip-of-the-iceberg-effect is what eventually makes us spend most of our time on a small piece of land thinking it’s all there is, while ignoring the rest of the underlying structure. Just in the same way, we end up missing out different views and voices.

In a moment in history when millions of people are stuck inside, everyday life and experience is now largely taking place on a screen but taking advantage of the world wide web in a more proactive way requires effort.
The specific goal of the algolrithms is to convey content that is likely to grab and hold our attention mostly based on our previous interaction, but how is this influencing us on the long run?

This automated sorting is in a way, gently taking the control away from the user and as NYT Kevin Roose put it, which of my tastes, thoughts and habits are really my own and which have been nurtured by an algorithm?

Photo by Surfaceon Unsplash

Tik Tok recently posted a statement on its blog explaining how their system recommends content to its users highlighting three main factors:

  • User interactions — liked videos, comments, accounts followed
  • Video informations —video metadata such as captions, hashtags and sounds
  • Account settings — country setting, language setting and device type.

Additional factors such as whether a user watches a video until the end or if the video creator and the video user are from the same country are also processed by the recommendation system.

In their statement Tik Tok directly addresses the issue of the “filter bubble” affirming that “this is a concern we take seriously as we maintain our recommendation system…” and that they proactively interrupt ripetitive content patterns and commit to diversify recommendations.

The quest for more diverse content, connecting diverse audiences from across the world and making local global and vice versa is at the base of what internet was originally created for. As the World Wide Web turned 30 last year, the debate on the way it’s shaping our life has become almost as big as the subject itself so far.

As a product of human elements combined with machine learning and artificial intelligence, internet and its tools are deeply influencing who we are. In this combination of factors, it’s the human factor what intercepts our habits, needs and behaviours, technology is what empowers it and self-improves this system aimed at catering a worldwide audience.

If up to a certain point, late Nineties perhaps, internet ranged from a niche phenomenon to almost a luxury service, it quickly began to turn more and more into a “black mirror” of the real world with its background noise, its perks and its dangers, except that everything feels amplified and virtually limitless.

It would be naive and somehow delusional to affirm that internet managed to created one world without borders as it’s turning into a more fractured landscape with its own mainstream media and subcultures. Despite the online “gentrification” of certain areas and the audience polarization of main social media platforms, internet still offers unexplored areas and immense potential for those who are willing to go on a quest and stray from the path. Just like in “real life”, beware of the big bad wolves, it might turn out that in the end, you are one of them.

Ph: Second Life®

Mixed heritage Social Media Ringmaster. Passionate about everything fresh: digital, tech, media, innovation and human behavior.