Algorithms are sets of mathematical rules that specify how a group of data behaves. In the case of social media, they are automated calculations that decide which posts make it to the top of your feed, depending on different metrics, subjective to each social media platform. They also help to maintain order and assist in ranking search results and advertisements. Although social media algorithms are prone to a few changes every year, we can still recognize most platforms by their unique set of fixed metrics.
Let's analyze the current four major social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. With the Facebook algorithm, news feed focuses on meaningful interactions to put more emphasis on posts from friends and family and content that generates conversation. The Twitter algorithm ranks tweets by recency and relevance to the user, to show users the most relevant – but still current – content in their feed. Instagram's algorithm focuses on popularity, relevancy, and relationship to show the best content to the most people. Lastly, LinkedIn's algorithm focuses on ranking content based on engagement and connection strength, in order to showcase strong business content. Although they have their own uniqueness, all of these platforms allow users to use hashtags and memes to start conversations on relevant topics – some more so than others but still we can find those two metrics of all platforms.
Born on Twitter about 13 years ago, the hashtag has become one of the most recognizable and widely used symbols of our time. Its purpose was to group related tweets together because of the platform's brevity. Today, algorithms use hashtags as a way to connect social media content to a specific topic or event. Memes, on the other hand, have a different function, which will be discussed further down the article. For now, let's look at the world's current affairs.
The first six months of 2020 has been painted with major events that have left many among us in despair. From Australia's wildfires to the appearance of the #COVID-19, and lately, in the United States, we saw the death of George Floyd, yet another black man killed through police brutality – creating a series of mass protests worldwide – one can't help but hope for the best for the next six months of this year.
But all those incidents have been relayed on all social media platforms and have spread worldwide in a matter of seconds. In light of the aforementioned event, social media algorithms have been readjusted to identify hate speech and posts promoting violence and racism. Recently, Facebook deactivated almost 200 accounts connected with white supremacist organizations already banned from the platform. Their algorithm has identified the word "Boogaloo", a term used by far-right extremists, referring to the idea of a second coming American Civil War, and will no longer recommend such groups and pages to users. As reported on The Verge, Facebook updated its Violence and Incitement policy to ban boogaloo and similar terms when used with images or statements depicting armed violence.
Social media algorithms use AI and machine learning to identify patterns in the content posted by users. And memes are among the top contents most shared online.
Meme, from the Greek word mimema, means "something imitated". It is described by Richard Dawkins as a form of cultural propagation, which is a way for people to transmit social memories and cultural ideas to each other. Memes are thoughts or ideas condensed into small snippets of images that could be either used to inform (usually in a funny way), disinformation, or used for propaganda (repurposed for personal or political views). With approximately 330 million monthly active users, Twitter is one of the top platforms where memes are largely used. Twitter's algorithm prioritizes recent content with the highest amount of engagement. As more people engage with the Black Lives Matter hashtags and memes, Twitter has become a source of raw, crowdsourced imagery of police brutality.
Social media algorithms, on all platforms, have the common ability to promote the information that is mostly fed to them. This results in two things; on the one hand, more people are getting informed and educated on the world's current issues. On the other hand, others seem overwhelmed and complain about being flooded with the same information repeatedly. Either way, when it comes to organizing information to address current matters, we cannot overlook the importance of social media algorithms.