Every single action that you take on a digital platform such as sharing or liking a post, viewing a video, searching for an item, is documented and used to predict your next action.
As per the New York Times’ Rabbit Hole podcast, YouTube’s recommendation algorithms are capable of heavily influencing viewers by leading them to extreme content. Moreover, the algorithm that runs on Facebook’s News Feed ranks content in such a way that users remain glued to the platform.
Numerous notable websites including Amazon also utilize “dark patterns” that trick users into spending more. These websites achieve this through different actions such as not showing the unsubscribe button or even showing how a product the user is interested in is selling like hot cakes.
When Facebook was exposed for selling data to Cambridge Analytics, it was found out that the latter was able to create a profile of a user based on their “likes”. With the help of “Cookies”, data enrichment is achieved, which links one’s personal data to other information such as education.
In a research published in Nature Human Behavior in 2019, it was discussed how much data about a user is included in the content posted on social media by their friends.
For the said research, data from Twitter was fetched and the predictability of people’s tweets, based on information from their friends, was studied. It was revealed that data from eight or at the most 9 friends was sufficient to predict a user’s tweets.
What’s interesting to note is that even if you decide to delete your Facebook account, your profile can still be created, solely based on your connections and social circle. So, it’s possible to create “shadow profiles” of people who aren’t on Facebook but their friends are.
Fortunately, if you do delete your account and your shadow profile is created, the information stored about you becomes useless over time and the predictability factor goes down steadily. So, even though your privacy and anonymity will not be restored immediately, they will be preserved eventually.
And it’s unfair to blame everything on algorithms. It’s important to realize that the role of humans in spreading misinformation on social media is quite huge. Speaking about Facebook specifically, your exposure to varying viewpoints relies more on the people in your social circle and less on the content present on the News Feed. As for Twitter, people have no one to blame but themselves for the rapid spread of “fake news” on the platform.
To say that content creators and social media influencers exploit the respective platforms’ (YouTube, Reddit, Instagram, etc.) algorithms to boost their content and get maximum eyes on it would be an understatement. In short, people do influence the algorithms at least as much as the algorithms influence them.