Robby Zambito

03 Nov 2020

Deleting Social Media with Algorithmic Feeds

Algorithmic feeds are designed with a purpose, to make consumers behave in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t.

About a month ago I decided to deactivate my Facebook account, and to uninstall Snapchat, Instagram, and Slide for Reddit from my phone. I did this because I felt like I was not using the internet on my own terms anymore. I felt (and still do) that handing the power to curate everything I see over to black boxes such as the ones I listed was not healthy for me. As a consumer of algorithmic feeds, you are not allowed to view, let alone control the system that decides what kind of information you see.

As an example, if you wanted to use Instagram as a way to show you content that makes you happy, the most you can do is aggressively suggest to the system that it should show you that content, by searching for it and following users who regularly post related content. For the last 2 years or so, I have tried to exclusively use Instagram for looking up dog photos, videos, and memes, and sharing them with a group chat of my friends. Despite this, I still would have content in my feed that did not align with my desires, such as political content, or other content that would evoke strong emotional responses from me.

As an experiment, I didn’t tell anyone that I was deleting the social media apps that I listed above before doing it. I wasn’t sure what kind of response I would get from those around me for doing this, if any. The first person to notice anything was my girlfriend, who noticed that she couldn’t see my Facebook page. I told her that I decided to deactivate my account, and that was that. To be fair though, I haven’t really been using Facebook for many years, so I figure most people haven’t noticed my page is missing. Snapchat on the other hand has been a little different. I didn’t look into seeing if I could deactivate my account without deleting it, so my account is still accessible to people. I think this may have caused some confusion, since people might be thinking that I’m ignoring them. A friend of mine said that he sent something, and I told him that I haven’t had Snapchat installed for a while now. Again, that has been that as far as my life without Snapchat.

There is this idea that you need to have an algorithm to curate content for you, or else it will be boring. After using my own Pleroma instance as my primary social media platform since July, I can tell you first hand that you do not need to have a timeline showing content in any order other than chronological in order to have meaningful conversation. In fact, I feel like I have been able to have healthier discussions with people of different backgrounds, since I am not being artificially confined to my own bubble. I’m also in complete control over the content that appears in my feed. If I decide that I don’t want to see content from someone anymore, if I stop following them, my server won’t show me their content unless I look for it. My feed on Pleroma is strictly a chronological timeline of posts from the people that I follow, and that is great.