One day, machines and robots will rule the world. Bad news: they already are. The secret of social media is already out there in the open. These ‘advertising firms’ sell our data to earn money. However, that is not it. If the basic premise of revenue model involves selling targeted ads to you, it makes sense to keep you hooked on the platform for as long as possible. More time you spend on the platform, more ads served to you. It’s simple. What’s not simple is it’s implications on our mind. You are unable to control what you see on your feed. Even worse, you don’t even realize that. So, the million dollar question here is: Does sustainable social media even exist?
I have been talking a lot about through various media lately. However, I have reached to a point where I don’t know if we can ever go back to non algorithmic feed at all or not. Even if we did, how will the revenue models pan out for the tech giants? Recently, I read about the fact that if we switch back to chronological feeds, people tend to miss out 70% of their posts. That means missing out on half their friends and family. In this blogpost, I put some light on how big is this problem, how social media giants have become an attention craving echo chambers and what possibly could be our way out! Tighten your seat belts, coz I am going to drop some truth bombs.
Why is it Scary?
Before jumping into the coping mechanism, let’s understand why is this even worth a read. Is this problem even big or are we just being paranoid? So, in order to explain this, I would take an example of Indian politics.
Disclaimer: Please note that I am an apolitical person and all the examples would be from a view point of illustration.
Let’s say that you support BJP and it’s ideologies. Simultaneously, you also dislike Rahul Gandhi and think that he is incompetent. I would go ahead and use the word ‘nincompoop‘, for that matter. Everything is fine until this point. After all, we are the world’s largest democracy.
So, one fine day you are scrolling through Facebook and find an ad run by BJP’s media team. You feel good about the advertisement, it resonates with your ideologies so you hit the ‘like‘ button. More ads pop up and you chose to like some of them. At this point, algorithm recognizes that you like posts which are talking highly of BJP. In order to retain you (ensure your stickiness) on the platform, it starts showing more such posts.
A few days later, another BJP follower tries to take a jab at Rahul Gandhi. So, he purposefully edits one of his videos to portray him as dumb. Since you and thousands ‘like you‘ are seeking such content, it pops up. The content may be fake and misleading, but it has become extremely popular. Therefore, a few irrational people (not you), develop a stronger hate for Mr. Gandhi because of this. They did not even think of validating the credibility of the video because of confirmation bias i.e. tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.
The above example is not fictitious. Remember Rahul Gandhi’s video where he says “Ek taraf se aloo, doosri taraf se sona”? That video was actually an edited part of another video.
Problem lies in the fact that misinformation and conspiracy theories spread faster than the truth. As humans, we love Masala in our lives. Unfortunately, truth is just plain boring.
It all starts with some crooks around us who understand social media and human psychology pretty well. These people play with our brains and generate viral content which would benefit their cause. And using social media to promote it, just aggravates the situation.
Every false information that goes viral is in line with the incorrect thought process of millions of people. Therefore, it amplifies and we stray further away from truth. Why do you think even flat earthers exist? Let that sink in.
Here’s a way you can test this out in real. Refer to the screenshot below:
Now, search similar phrase on your desktop/phone. It’s highly likely that results will be absolutely different. So at this point, it doesn’t matter what social media is. It’s all about what you think instead. I got these search suggestions from Google because I think of social media as fake, bad, boon, creativity killer etc.
Social Media and Switch to Algorithms:
Remember good old times when you had to manually chose if you wanted ‘most recent’ or ‘most popular’ posts first? Yes. Even I don’t. So here’s how switch happened for the social media giants:
Facebook is the pioneer of the algorithmic feed. It had started using algorithms to tweak the feed back in 2009. However, for initial few years, some control was given to the user where one could press the ‘most recent‘ button and switch back to chronological feeds. This button was hidden deep inside navigation in 2016.
However, if you still want your feed to switch back to chronological order of uploads. There are ways to do that. All you have to do is click on the top right three bars and search for ‘recent & favorites’ button. If you never knew this existed, is a proof that it was never intended so. (Screenshot Attached)
Twitter also switched to machine based feed display in 2016. However, you can switch back to chronological feed again. (Refer to the screenshot below). Note how the algorithmic feed is called “Home”. This just reveals the intention behind maintaining the opacity around algorithms for someone who is not tech savvy.
Instagram was born with algorithmic approach. Also, there is no way to switch to a ‘Most Recent’. Therefore, you are in a total dark in terms of what you are seeing and why.
What is the Solution?
So, it is very hard to find a perfect balance and form a sustainable social media model. However, one thing is for sure. Creating an alternate social media might just not be the correct way of going about it. Why? Because of network effect. Here’s an explainer carousal on the same:
But that doesn’t mean we should give up yet. Here’s somethings that can be done to control this menace of misinformation:
1. Advertiser Profile Verification:
There should be an upper limit to the spends on advertising you can do on social media. Every second post should not be about your cause. Also, if posts run by a particular individual, group, agency are seem to spreading misinformation, a ban needs to be put on them.
There should be stricter governance, norms and validation mechanisms in order to be able to advertise on social media.
2. Democratize Feed:
Let people pick their areas of interests. Until someone specifically chases misinformation, they won’t have to see it. Let people decide if they want to see political posts, religious posts or posts only from friends and family. This way, if someone feels insecure about what they are viewing, they can always customize their feed as per the preference.
I think one cannot put the entire blame on social media platforms for this ruckus. Some miscreants are abusing the power of technology for their personal gains. With that being said, the onus of fixing this problem, lies on these tech giants alone. The mammoth they have created needs to be tamed whenever required. Steps like banning Trump from social media platforms have restored faith in the fact that above all machines, there is still a human being who calls the final shots.
So? Am I just being paranoid or this is really serious? Also, share your suggestions of creating a sustainable social media revenue model.
Until Next Time. . .