Navigating Your Social Media Algorithm

Social media has become an almost ubiquitous part of our lives. We wake up in the morning, make our coffee and breakfast and scroll through our Instagram and Twitter feeds to catch up on the latest news, celebrity gossip and photos from our friends. Thanks to these social media websites, we as a human race are now more connected to one another than we ever have been; we have the ability to see what our friends and family are up to and to communicate with them anywhere in the world.

 However, as many of us know, there is also a serious downside to social media that has come to the forefront of the discourse on this topic in recent years: mental health concerns.

 With the never-ending stream of photo, video and other forms of posts online, the risk for self-comparison and doubt is at an all-time high. There are times when I find myself wishing I was living the lives of people I see online. It is hard not to get down on yourself when you are constantly having to bear witness to the glamour of what is advertised to us online. And to those who say, “Just stop looking at it,” it is not quite that simple.

 The Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” outlines the ways in which the algorithms used by many social media websites are designed to keep us coming back for more. The psychological link between the brain’s response to refreshing your feed on any given social media website is connected to the same mechanism that is activated in your brain when playing on a slot machine according to an interview from the film. The reason why it is so addicting is because we know we will always get something new from pulling the proverbial lever; this is damaging for us because we never know if it will make us feel good or bad.

 I have fallen victim to the social media slot machine many times. I first created an Instagram account when I was 12 years old. At that age, we are not able to fully comprehend the way that these websites are designed to trick us into using them more and more. I would see one post that made me feel bad about myself, and it would ruin my entire day.

 Thankfully, there seems to be a solution to this problem, and it lies in tricking the algorithm.

 When Instagram and other similar websites changed their structure in 2017 from a chronological feed to an algorithmic feed, the posts that were displayed on a user’s timeline no longer reflected what was being uploaded to the site in real time. Instead, the feed now displays the posts that the algorithm believed the user would want to see the most based on activity history and a number of other factors.

 One of the easiest ways to manipulate this algorithm to your advantage is to actively seek out and engage with the kinds of posts you want to see. Personally, I enjoy content geared toward cooking, interior design, fashion and pop culture from the ‘80s and ‘90s, just to name a few examples. Whenever I come across an account on Instagram that posts things like this, I make it a point to follow the accounts and to like or sometimes even comment on their posts. Now, I notice that more of my timeline consists of content in these areas, and my explore page almost exclusively has this kind of content.

 The same strategy can be applied to other social media websites. YouTube will continue to show what is trending on your homepage. Seeking out creators that make content you enjoy and liking their videos, as well as subscribing to their channels, will allow more content like theirs to show up in your recommended feed. On Twitter, you can actually adjust the settings of your timeline to be chronological rather than algorithm based, but you have to make this change yourself. Additionally, Twitter allows you to follow certain topics and will include tweets from your followed topics in your timeline the more you engage with these posts.

 Instagram has also recently included a feature that allows you to hide likes and comments on your posts. If you find that this sort of thing negatively impacts your mental health, use this to your advantage. You are also able to hide certain people’s posts without them knowing.

 Social media is a powerful tool, as long as we use it responsibly and make sure the content that we see is going to impact us positively. I have been a social media user from a relatively young age, and I definitely had to learn this for myself over time. Instead of Instagram being damaging to my mental health, I have tailored my algorithm to show me content that I will enjoy and make me feel more positive about using the app in general. 

 With all of that being said, it is still okay to take breaks from these websites whenever you feel it is becoming overwhelming. Although they have become such an everyday part of our lives, at the end of the day, what is most important is taking care of ourselves. This article is just meant to serve as a way to better your social media browsing experience, if you choose to do so.


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