Is Social Media Discriminating Your News? How Computers Control the Content and Conversation - ITS Tactical

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Is Social Media Discriminating Your News? How Computers Control the Content and Conversation

By The ITS Crew

Consuming content online has changed radically over the last decade and these days, the information you see on social media is mostly decided by computers. Algorithms deep inside data centers decide what information should be displayed to you and in what order. Today we’ll look at why it might not always be a good thing and discuss a few ways you can take back your content.

Let’s time travel back to 2008, specifically the Internet during this time. If you were a somewhat online-savvy user, your morning routine probably consisted of opening a browser and heading to your daily bookmarks. Perhaps you bookmarked some sites dealing with news, hobbies or even discussion boards.

Whatever the content was, you’d open it and peruse the latest posts and comments that had been created while you were away. You might even find something that piqued your interest and share your thoughts on it.

Other users might not even visit the site themselves and instead would rely on RSS feeds to deliver content to them through email or their favorite reader app. (Pour one out for Google Reader.)

Ads had finally arrived on social media

It was around this time that social networks began to rise in popularity and not just with younger audiences. People were creating accounts and connecting with old friends or colleagues they hadn’t seen in years. Now, when you’d share your thoughts on these networks, the comments and feedback you’d receive would come from friends and acquaintances, rather than strangers.

You could even follow the updates and interact directly with your favorite companies! Want to give them feedback? Simply post your comment on the page of the company and most times, you’d receive a direct response.

This turned out to be quite the revolution and changed the online landscape forever. Rather than visiting your bookmarks individually, you’d simply fire up your favorite social network and skim through the articles and comments from other users and companies that you’d chosen to follow. You could just continue to scroll down and catch up on everything you’d missed.

However, it wasn’t long before users started noticing that certain posts would appear out of order, or that some posts from friends or companies wouldn’t be displayed at all. At the same time, users began seeing posts from companies or users that they hadn’t chosen to follow, in what became known as sponsored posts. Ads had finally arrived on social media.

Pay to Play

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With more and more content being posted to social media each day, social media companies made the choice to create algorithms to decide what a user should see upon logging in. These computer-driven choices decided whether you would see your cousin’s new baby announcement, over your friend’s new car purchase.

On the back end, the algorithms spelled a different message for small businesses and other page owners. Many social networks began limiting the reach of company posts to a fraction of the audience they had previously reached. There was a solution to reaching the full audience though; paying the social network directly.

Many would make the argument that as private companies, these restrictions on reach and pay-to-be-seen structures were just Capitalism at work. In fact, you can count us at ITS in that camp as well, because we do believe that businesses should be able to operate as they want within the law. However, we think there’s something deeper at work and it isn’t just Capitalism. It’s something that’s changing our culture and society at the granular level.

Follow the Rules, If You Can Find Them

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As a small business made up of fairly online-savvy people, we’ve been on both sides of the social network experience; consuming and creating content. Through the last decade, we’ve built an amazing following of readers, listeners and customers that continue to surprise us with their generosity, thoughts and support. Many of these followers were introduced to us through various social media outlets and so when the changes came that would force us to pay in order to reach them, we paid.

Through sponsored posts and advertising campaigns, we paid these social networks to display our content to people that had already subscribed to updates from us. We understood that when you play in someone else’s sandbox, you have to follow their rules.

However, we even began to experience issues through the paid system. Without warning, our ads or posts would be disabled for “violating policy or other guidelines.” When we’d appeal these removals with the companies, many times we were met with, “Something must have flagged these posts in our system.” We were encouraged to read through the company’s advertising guidelines to ensure our posts and ads followed them to the letter.

Even after following these guidelines though, we continued to experience issues, continually being told that this wasn’t something that should’ve happened, rather something that was being flagged automatically by their systems. These same systems that select what posts and content to display to users continually flagged our posts as policy violating without clear answers as to exactly what was being violated.

Poisoning the Watering Hole

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Let’s be clear, we don’t believe that this system is a deep state, neural network designed to brainwash the masses and remove content that ITS produces. We think it boils down to something a lot more simple, ad revenue. We’ve seen numerous recent examples of large companies demanding stricter rules on content posted to social media because their ads are running alongside certain content. Some Fortune 500 companies don’t want their ads to be associated with content that they deem inappropriate.

While it’s a somewhat understandable position, it’s difficult to understand where the line will be drawn as to what’s acceptable. Like it or not, the majority of users online draw much of their information from social media, so those that control what’s posted on social media can be selective about the information. This type of censorship, paired with the short attention span of our online culture, means that these networks can directly influence our society’s thinking and even make or break businesses.

What Can Be Done

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With all of this information, it might seem like the answer is to abandon social media and create a censorship-free utopia. However, we don’t think that’s a solution to anything. As we’ve said in the past, leaving something just because you don’t like the way things are going, removes the ability to discuss and dissent with critics or supporters.

Like many small businesses, it’s discouraging that people who’ve chosen to follow us and see our content or products, aren’t seeing the whole picture. We spend hours creating articles, videos and podcasts to showcase skills and tools that you can use to prevail in life.

We love interacting with our readers and customers, through comments, emails or even face to face meetings. Through the years, we’ve seen this interaction slowly decline and we’d like to see what we can do to ramp it back up. If you’re interested in getting direct updates from us that aren’t determined by an algorithm, consider signing up for our email newsletter below. It’s a weekly update where we show you highlights of our newest articles, content and products.

Want to talk or provide some feedback for us? Shoot us an email to [email protected] with your thoughts or comments. We read everything that comes across our inbox. Even if more in-depth responses can take a bit, we try to get back to everyone in 24 hours. Email not for you? Leave a comment below this article to share your thoughts publicly and let’s get some discussion going!

The Internet has changed, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still interact like we used to. Let’s turn back the clock, without living in the past.

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