Recent Algorithmic Changes

December 4, 2021

Facebook made several modifications to different elements of this system in the past few years, but one of the most impactful changes was implemented in early 2018. The company revised its News Feed algorithm to encourage “meaningful social interactions” (MSIs). This new structure had several unintended consequences, boosting more emotionally charged posts. It did not take long for political figures and influencers to identify this pattern, increasingly posting sensationalist content.

However, the purpose of this change was to encourage interaction between friends and family members rather than consuming professionally manufactured content. So why did it have the opposite effect? 

To understand how this occurred, we must explore the phenomenon of quantitative popularity. Posts and accounts with more views, likes, comments, and shares garner more attention and, consequently, have more power. These engagement-based metrics help set the narrative for what people view on their social media feeds. 

To model this, I created two separate Instagram accounts and treated each differently. In the first, my personal account, I traversed content on my “Explore” page authentically. Then, based on which reels or posts I dawdled on for longer and interacted with, my feed began to change from the initially generated one. Rather than generically popular content, I started seeing more Gossip Girl and Gilmore Girls content (my favorite TV shows) and more reels by @itsgurnaz, who shares the beauty of Indian culture. I never explicitly followed any of these accounts but continued to like or linger on them. 

In the second account, I followed politically left-winged individuals and friends whose political affiliation was more liberal. I then began engaging with content and soon found only liberal thought to be represented in my feed. It can be assumed that the same would have occurred from the right-winged standpoint. Many may argue that this is not inherently an issue, but it unfortunately is.

Firstly, through exposure to emotionally charged posts from one end of the spectrum, diversity of political thought is limited, and extremism takes hold of individuals. Secondly, misinformation on social media platforms is rampant. Cognitive biases such as the bandwagon effect and name familiarity encourage the spread of information that may not be entirely reliable. 

About the Writers
Shivani Murugapiran, Staff Writer
Shivani Murugapiran is an impassioned staff writer at The Bird Feed. She is currently in 12th grade and has been diagnosed with a serious case of senioritis. She enjoys advocating for educational equity, having created her own nonprofit to provide opportunities for foster children. She also dabbles in writing short stories and poetry, emphasizing literary realism. Shivani is actively involved in her school community as well, presiding as the president of both Girls Who Code and FBLA. Her favorite movie is The Dead Poets Society (she, unashamedly, cries every time). You can contact her at [email protected] or through her twitter @murugapiran.  

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