Accessibility of information has vastly improved due to the internet and the numerous social media platforms that allow users to post and share just about anything. Though there are still a lot of issues concerning these sites and even rights concerning the use of these platforms like privacy, freedom, and misinformation among others.
People have been talking a lot about the algorithms that make these platforms work. Just like Google's method of sorting the sites most relevant to your search queries, Facebook and other platforms have the same issue.
A group of researchers suggested that Google's monopoly of their algorithm more or less tips the scales in favor of certain sites that take advantage of that algorithm to rise in the search rankings. I mean, that's what search engine optimization is for, however, because of this so-called "googlearchy" coined by the researchers, users aren't always able to get the content that they need.
“Though no one expected that every page on the Web would receive an exactly equal share of attention, many have assumed that the Web would be dramatically more egalitarian in this regard than traditional media. Our empirical results, however, suggest enormous disparities in the number of links pointing to political sites in a given category.
We introduce a new term to describe the organizational structure we find: “googlearchy” – the rule of the most heavily linked. We ultimately conclude that the structure of the Web funnels users to only a few heavily-linked sites in each political category.”
In Facebook's case, their algorithm defines what would show up on your news feed. If you have a lot of friends on Facebook, you would literally spend hours just scrolling down and browsing through your feed until the whole day has been spent without you even moving a muscle.
Users still have control over their feed somewhat. One can organize their contacts in such a way that they would only see posts from friends whom they really trust or whose content seem most relevant to them. But to get to this point, it would be quite taxing and require you to sort through your list.
These situations were likened to scientific publishing in that the information that gets through usually depend on a certain "algorithm". In the case of scientific publishing, it depends on the number of citations. So the most relevant and useful papers or content don't necessarily receive enough attention because of it. For online platforms, it's usually the number of links or likes.
Why am I telling you this? Because it occurred to me recently that the problem with Facebook’s omnipotent algorithm is very similar to a problem we see with scientific publishing. In scientific publishing, we also have a widely used technique for filtering information that is causing trouble. In this case, we filter which publications or authors we judge as promising.
It's easier to solve the issue in scientific publishing. The people behind the Back Reaction blog have developed a website that could help parse through scientific work. But it might be difficult for consumers to make a significant difference in terms of online platforms since the big tech companies are the ones who create these algorithms by which we abide.
However, here's the suggestion made by Sabine Hossenfelder:
Likewise, the problem with Facebook’s algorithm is that no one knows how it works, and it can’t be customized. If it was possible for users to customize what information they see, gaming would be much less of a problem. Well, needless to say, I am assuming here that the users’ customization would remain private information.
So, I think an easy way to solve at least some of the problems with Facebook would be to allow a third-party plug to sort your news-feed. This would give users more control and also relieve Facebook of some responsibility.
(Image credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash)