Blog Post #2

The Impact of Algorithms

The use of algorithms on social media websites negatively impact our understanding of the world.  So says writer Kalev Leetaru of Forbes.  In his February 14, 2016 article entitled, “The Zika Virus And How Algorithms And Media Effects Impact Our Understanding Of Global Issues,” Kalev argues that algorithms, particularly those on social media, do not give us the whole picture, but rather, only what media thinks we want to see.

The latest social media craze, the discussion of the Zika virus, provides ample evidence for the negative impact of algorithms.  This topic of Zika has seen a rapidly increase in coverage in the past few weeks.  This in itself is not bad–we should be concerned about the plight of others. However, from the frenzy this coverage is creating, one would think that the virus is a new phenomenon and not that it has been around for more than half a century.  Why does this happen?  Leetaru argues this occurs primarily through media filtering and algorithms.  This is becoming more and more evident as time goes on.  He gives the example of the bizarre difference that occurred back in 2014 of the difference of media coverage of on Facebook and Twitter.  On Facebook, the ALS ice-bucket challenge was trending, but on Twitter all the main coverage was about Ferguson.  Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post discusses why this happened.  She said that it is an example of our “awareness problem.”  She notes that Facebook filtered our feeds and “decided” that the ice-bucket challenge was more enjoyable for use to view than the Ferguson coverage.  Thus, Facebook all but eliminated the coverage of Ferguson.  This is becoming an increasing problem–seeing what only the algorithm thinks we want to view and not what we need to see.

“In today’s information saturated world it is all too easy to assume that if something happens anywhere in the world we will instantly find out about it and that the intensity with which it appears in front of us corresponds to its global importance,” writes Leetaru.  In fact, it is just the opposite–we do not see all the news.  Who determines the importance of a story?  It is not the global impact of of the story or the sheer number of the people the story affects globally, but instead, it is determined how interested we are in hearing the story.  The News Distorts Our Worldview for a number of reasons, but often based on our interests.  Thus, individuals in the United States only truly became interested in the Zika virus or even the Ebola epidemic when they thought they might be directed affected.  According to Athavaley andFares of Reuters, more and more Americans are worried about the affects of the virus.  However, they are not concerned about the victims of the virus, but are purely concerned about potentially cancelling their spring break.  The Zika virus is not trending because of the global impact of the virus, but rather, it is only starting to trend online because it may affect us.  Thus, if Facebook or other social media sites find that the information does not directly impact us, they simply eliminate it from our feed.
This algorithmic filtering is creating a more enjoyable, pleasant experience for the viewers of social media, but is that all that matters?  On the contrary, these algorithms are dumbing us down by showing views and events that continue showing us our own views over and over again, never forcing us to expand our horizons. It negatively shows our understanding of how the world works and how we should operate within it.

 

Works Cited:
Athavaley, A., & Fares, M. (2016, February 03). Zika virus a trending topic on social media platforms. Retrieved February 29, 2016, from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-zika-socialmedia-idUSKCN0VC2I0

Leetaru, K. (2016, February 14). The Zika Virus And How Algorithms And Media Effects Impact Our Understanding Of Global Issues. Retrieved February 23, 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2016/02/14/the-zika-virus-and-how-algorithms-and-media-effects-impact-our-understanding-of-global-issues/#73083fd56b0a

 
Miller, A. (2008, March). How the news distorts our worldview. Retrieved February 29, 2016, from https://www.ted.com/talks/alisa_miller_shares_the_news_about_the_news?language=en

Petri, A. (2014, August). Twitter, Facebook, and Ferguson — our awareness problem. Retrieved February 29, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2014/08/18/twitter-facebook-and-ferguson-our-awareness-problem/
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Blog Post #1

“The medium is the message,” a phrase popularized by Marshall McLuhan in 1964, is often touted as a central idea of modern media.  However, with the advent of online and social media in more recent years, can we really say that this statement holds true today?  Is social media actually a result not only of content, but of medium or platform itself?   To find answers to my question, I decided to do further investigation into the world of social media.  I centralized my research on what the Pew Research Center found was the fastest growing social media–Instagram.

Instagram is a social media platform unlike any other.  Robinson Meyer from the Atlantic describes it as creating “a space for intimacy and gratitude, despite being a broadcast medium.”  It accomplishes this in a way that sets the social media “rules” aside, and it creates new ones.  Unlike most social media platforms, there is a noticeable lack of advertising.  Most platforms are constantly being bombarded with ads. Because users tend to find advertising as a source of irritation, many ads are now made to look like regular posts made by individuals.  Instagram takes a different approach–no ads. There are plenty of companies on Instagram, but you have to search and follow them to see the advertisements.  You are not forced to scroll past their ads when you wish to see other posts.  Using this type of medium, Instagram sends a direct message–we care about your user experience.

Instagram continues to differentiate itself from the competition by using alternative mediums for the message.  Instead of concentrating on the sharing of written word (which is most common with Facebook and Twitter for example), the creators behind Instagram decided to focus on something arguable more primal–the image.  Images speak to use in a way that words cannot.  Remember the old adage of, “A picture is worth a thousand words”?  Well, it’s true.  According to Journal of Psychology and the “Picture Superiority Effect,” we recall up to 50% more of pictures than we do of spoken or written word. ( Video Explanation ) As humans, we are programed to be more responsive to images.  Instagram has latched on to that very concept.  Because they do not focus on the written word, but rather, they focus on images–they garner our attention.  There is no need to have words as the primary message.  Whether it is to show you travel photos or share a photo of your coffee, it does not matter.  The medium of imagery sends the message clearly without words–this is what I enjoy.

Because Instagram is image based, that’s not to say that words have no place in Instagram.  On the contrary, they are more like supporting actors to the star medium–the image.  The can aid in describing the image or can even help in finding new viewership for the image itself through the use of hashtags.  The young seemed to have particularly latched on to this.  Business Insider, Caroline Moss, describes her experience of using hashtags like a teenager.  She said, “you might see a spike in the number of likes you get compared to posting the same photo with no hashtags. Which makes sense, because hashtags make a photo searchable.”  Thus, hashtags and words on Instagram are not the message themselves, but they become a means to help you discover the message.

Through this, we can conclude that in the case of Instagram, the medium truly is the message.  The images of Instagram are themselves the message, and it makes for a refreshing change for the crazy, advertisement ridden and word driven world of social media.

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Inside Sources:

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man.
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Outside Sources:

Meyer, R. (2015, July 17). I Like Instagram. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/07/i-like-instagram/398834/
Moss, C. (2014, June 11). I Tried Using Instagram Like A Teenager – And It Completely Changed The Way I See The App. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from http://www.businessinsider.com/how-teens-use-instagram-2014-6
Social Media Update 2014. (2015, January 09). Retrieved February 11, 2016, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/09/social-media-update-2014/
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Secondary Source:
Picture Superiority Effect. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLLDUyy8utY