Social media has now become an inseparable part of everyone’s life. It has revolutionized the way people communicate with one another. Using social media, sharing information, and consuming content have become very easy. There are over 3.8 billion active social media users around the world with platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc.
Social media had now become the primary source of information for most people. You can consider it the most influential and intelligent tool on the internet. Social media has its own algorithms that play a crucial role in defining our online experience. It sorts and personalizes the content we see. However, are you aware of the dark side of social media algorithms that contribute to misinformation, polarization, and even political instability?
Social Media Algorithms
Social media algorithms are complex computer programs that learn user behavior and preferences using data analytics. It tracks the content we engage with, the accounts we follow, and the pattern of our interactions. Using this information, it tries to deliver a personalized experience to maximize user engagement. Users will always come across content that they are likely to enjoy and share with others.
However, there are many dark sides to social media algorithms. It creates echo chambers where users come across content that aligns with their existing interests and beliefs. This leads to selective thinking among the users, where they become less likely to consider alternative perspectives.
Misinformation is a significant problem due to social media algorithms. Social media gives priority to content that creates more engagement, such as likes, comments, and shares. This encourages content creators to create provocative and sensitive content that can go viral, even if it is false or misleading.
Example: During the COVID-19 pandemic, all the social media platforms were flooded with false and misleading information regarding the virus, its origin, and even vaccines. There were many conspiracy theories viral throughout the internet. This led to many global consequences, where people started refusing to get vaccinated. Ultimately, it led to putting more lives at risk.
Social media algorithms are also responsible for polarization, where users and communities become socially divided and extreme in their views. Algorithms always prioritize content that generates high engagement. Hence, controversial and polarizing content gets the most engagement.
It creates a situation in which individuals most probably come across extreme and divisive content. Such content contributes to their existing beliefs and creates enmity towards others holding opposite views. Ultimately, it creates different echo chambers on the platform where users are exposed to a single perspective.
The opinions of users are limited to either black or white. Users are obliged either to be with it or against it. Hence, there is no room for neutrality. There is no or very little management of information on social media. It is filled with false and misleading content from unreliable sources creating a huge impact on the lives of people and their thoughts.
The consequences of polarization can be significant by creating social unrest and violence in society. Social media algorithms can intensify already existing issues in society and also create new ones. This makes it more challenging to create harmony on the platform. We can see some profound political effects, like fueling the rise of extremist political movements, destabilizing democracies, and amplifying political polarization.
The issue with social media algorithms is that they are non-transparent, proprietary, and owned by social media platforms. Hence, users have no option to understand how they work or on what basis they are used to rank and prioritize content.
Sometimes, lack of transparency creates mistrust and suspicion among users. They may feel that algorithms are biased or unfair. From different social communities to political parties, either side may feel biased for a particular topic. This may lead to a loss of trust and contribute to enmity among each others.
Limits your opinions
Another dark side of social media algorithms is that your opinion or belief gets limited because of dominant content on the platform. Social media allows everyone to express their opinions and interact with each other. When users come across content that is viral, they may feel that it should be adopted as it is trending over the platform.
Teenagers and adults try their best to reach social media fame by adopting everything that is trending. Eventually, it contributes to the already dominant opinion or belief. Hence, more and more individuals become part of it.
Sometimes, social media gets divided into two groups, namely “pro” and “anti”. Whenever there is a certain issue or event in society, some people may boycott it in some or the other way. Now, other users are left with only two opinions to join either perspective. Sometimes, opinions related to boycott become dominant and limits other users to know the other side of the story.
People may use this for their personal advantage and name and justify it under the “Boycott Umbrella”. Users may start to blindly follow the same opinion and refuse to even look at the other side of the story.
Social media algorithms have the potential to enhance our online experiences. But, we need to carefully understand that they also have a dark side that contributes to misinformation, polarization, and political instability. The non-transparent and complex nature of social media algorithms makes it very difficult to understand and limit its negative consequences.
Hence, we must use social media for sharing and consuming information by considering that it is not limit our views and beliefs. Avoid sharing false and unreliable information with others to make a positive impact of social media in everyone’s life.
Guest article written by: Abhijith VM. Blogger/SEO at Geek’s Framework. Loves internet marketing, travel, and cars.