You Ask, I Answer: Fixing Social Media?

You Ask, I Answer: Fixing Social Media?

In today’s episode, Mike questions why social media can sometimes feel like a “dumpster fire.” You’ll explore the role of machine learning algorithms in shaping your social media experience, focusing on engagement metrics like likes, comments, and shares. Discover how your interactions with content dictate what you see more of on your feeds. Tune in to learn how to proactively manage your social media content, ensuring it aligns with your interests and preferences.

You Ask, I Answer: Fixing Social Media?

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for watching the video.

In today’s episode, Mike asks, why is social media such a dumpster fire? Well, there’s so many ways to answer this question.

Okay, let’s start here.

Social media is, or can be a dumpster fire because of the way that the machine learning algorithms behind it work, the way they get data, and then the way they prioritize what they are going to show you.

Most of the social media networks that exist today have very sophisticated algorithms for choosing what you see.

And those algorithms are predicated very heavily on engagement, on what you choose to like, to comment, to share, to view fully.

And in particular for comments, what language you use and what language is in the posts that you are commenting on.

So if social media feels like a dumpster fire.


Because your particular slice of the algorithm, your profile has a history of engagement with content that you’ve engaged with and lookalike content, content that’s very similarly themed.

Let’s say without getting political, let’s say you were, you avidly comment on posts about the Klingon empire, but but you’re you’re, you actively oppose comment comment content about the Romulan empire, right? You’re all for the Klingons, you’re, you’re opposing the Romulans.

And when you hop onto the social network of your choice and you see a post about the Romulan empire, you’re in there saying, you know, the prayer ship is all this and you know, they’re, they’re, they’re quantum singularity engines are dangerous to the environment and you’re just, you’re hitting the, the engagement button, you’re leaving comments and you’re yelling at people and stuff in the comments.

What’s happening behind the scenes is that the algorithm is saying, this person really likes this content because they’re engaging with it.


Let’s give them more of this.

They like, they, they engage with the Romulan empire, give them more Romulan empire content, even though you’re there for the Klingons, you know, you’re, you’re engaging with that stuff.

And so as a result, the algorithm, these algorithms are not software.

They’re not sentient.

They have no true intelligence.

They have no reasoning capability.

They are just gauging probability.

What is the probability that you will engage with this piece of content? Facebook, for example, and, and Instagram on their model cards, in their AI systems, they tell you, this is how we do it.

We look at what you’re likely to engage with them.

We score based on a bunch of different probabilities, a lot of which is engagement based, and we serve it up to you and more often than not, they’re right.

So if you’re getting a bunch of stuff in social media that you don’t want, it’s because the algorithms either are looking at your history and saying, well, you like the stuff in the past, I’m going to give you more of it, or they don’t have enough data.

And so they start essentially serving up semi-random stuff to see what you engage with.

I’ve noticed this happens a lot.

For example, on Instagram and threads from time to time, I’ll just get really wacky, random stuff.

And it’s at that point when I know, okay, the system is trying to, to randomize, to give some random content, to see if I’ll engage with any of it.

And if so, it knows then to serve me up more of that.

It’s usually it’s a small amount of tasks, like 5% of the time, which is what you would expect.

In a machine learning algorithm, that’s going to have some randomization so that you can expand the field of the field of search.

All this means is that if you’re not getting what you want out of the social media channel of your choice, it’s because you’re not engaging with the stuff that you want, not to victim blame.

But if you’re seeing only content about the Romulan empire, it’s because that’s what the system thinks you want.

And if you don’t want that, you have to proactively.

We go after the content you want.

If you’re on threads or you’re on Instagram or you’re on LinkedIn and you love Klingons, go search for the hashtag, you know, Klingon empire or chancellor Galbraith or whatever, and like that stuff, share it, comment on it, you know, do everything you would expect to do from the content that you want to see more of so that the algorithm behind the scenes goes, Hey, this person’s engaging a lot with the Klingon empire.

Engagement is one of our key performance indicators.

Let’s serve them up more Klingon empire content, see how they engage with it.

And in doing so that you will get more of what you want.

Again, these things are not sentient.

They have no way of knowing what you really want.

They can only guess based on past data.

So the good and the bad of it is that you are in charge of what you get on social media.

There are on many systems, preference panels say, I want to see content on these topics, or I don’t want to see content on these topics.

Use those, take advantage of those, and then just mash that like button on everything that you want to see more of an actively go search out for the things you want.

If you want to see content about puppies, there’s no George of it.

You just start searching for hashtags.

And then as soon as you see, you know, that cute dog, you know, riding a duck or whatever, you hit the like button and you feed the machine learning algorithms, what the, the data they need.

To make probability judgements along what you want more of part of the reason that we, things like misinformation and disinformation and fake news and this are so popular and works so well is because people engage with it.

It’s that simple people engage with it.

They hit like button or they comment on it, things that make people angry or afraid it works, it gets engagement and there’s no, if you look at the mathematics behind any kind of recommendation engine, there is absolutely no moral encoding.

They are amoral.

They have no morals.

They only do what they’re told.

They only serve up more of what is probabilistically chosen that a user is going to engage with, whether or not it’s good for them, whether or not it’s true, whether or not it is a benefit to society or not.

These systems are not tuned for that.

It would be very hard for these systems to even be tuned for that because you would have to have an agreement on what is valuable for society, right? If you love Klingons and you hate Romulans, there’s probably someone, you know, a member of the Tal Shiar from the Romulan Empire that’s all in on Romulus and Remus and they’re like, “Oh, those Klingons, they’re bad for society.” And there’s no agreement.

And so these amoral systems simply just give us more of what we want.

So if you want social media to be less of a dumpster fire, you have that power to a great degree.

I have taken systems like Instagram or Threads or LinkedIn and five minutes a day of just liking things that I want within a week.

Totally different experience.

Totally different experience.

I see much less of what I don’t want.

YouTube, same thing.

It takes a minute to right click on a video and say, I don’t I’m not interested in this.

And suddenly the algorithms change and it’s more and more of what I want.

These tools are a lot like the the fairy tale fable genie’s gin in Arabic that give you what you ask for.

And the cautionary tale in all those old stories is be careful what you ask for because you will get it.

And algorithms and machine learning and AI are very much like that.

If you ask for it, you will get it, even if you realize later on, maybe I didn’t want that.

So you have to be very conscious, very mindful, very thoughtful about what you want more of in your life.

And the tools will help you get that.

They will also help you get more of what you don’t want in your life if you engage with it.

So really good question.

And we could spend a whole lot of time on this, but I would strongly encourage you to go check out the model cards, the AI model cards for any social network that you use of any reputable social media, social media company will publish their model cards to summarize at a high level how their systems work.

Read through them, read through them.

So do you understand this is how it knows to give me more of X and less of Y? That in turn will make you happier and will give you a much better experience.

Thanks for asking.

Talk to you next time.

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