Neptune Navigate Blog

Tips for online safety, security, and responsible digital citizenship for parents, kids, and families.

Algorithmic Recommendations Can Push Users Into Radical Views and Opinions

May 15, 2021

Since the introduction of MySpace in 2004, social media has long been touted as the new age of personal connections, communication and digital information. It’s sometimes hard to imagine life prior to social media. Never before have we experienced the speed and spread of information like we do on the internet.

It used to be that we’d get curated information in the way of the evening news or newspapers, and they were widely considered the “source of truth.” The opinion piece was a very small part of either one, and one person’s opinion never had the widespread impact it does now.

In today’s society, one single post or tweet can either raise thousands of dollars for a charitable cause, or it can cost a company millions of dollars. Due to the overwhelming number of people who have access to social media, it only makes sense that there would be an overwhelming number of opinions.

Therein lies a problem. Because there is no authority curating news and information online, it makes all of us more susceptible to misinformation and deception.

Think of it like this: when was the last time you got really emotionally charged about something you saw or read on social media? It’s likely that it  conjured up either a positive emotional response or a really negative one. Unfortunately, our knee- jerk reaction is to comment, like, or engage in some kind of discourse. Big Tech companies take advantage of these interactions, using algorithms to customize what you receive based on your social media activity impacting the information (or misinformation) you receive.

In fact, experts are now calling the spread of misleading information on social media an “infodemic.” The algorithms prioritize “micro-targeted” content and use it to identify demographics and individual interests to influence their thoughts or actions. Apple CEO Tim Cook, recently said, “At a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms, we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement – the longer the better – and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible.”

The bottom line is that we all need to increase our media literacy when engaging online which includes the awareness of how algorithms, personalization and micro-targeting shape the information we receive and how it impacts society.