Why do I see this news article?

Husnain Choudhry, Tech Columnist

You are seeing this news article because, unlike any of your favorite social media apps, the Cavalcade doesn’t have a team of engineers on its payroll to figure out what engages you the most. Instead, you have chosen to read this article, either accidentally or by curiosity, and I intend to make your choice worth it. 

Often, when subjected to boredom, many of us check our social media accounts. One of the most useful features is the news feed feature, a seemingly endless stream of posts that somehow entraps you and takes up hours of your time. Interestingly, many social media critics highlight this danger of wasting time, but few understand the much more serious issue of what is consumed during those hours. This occurs in relation to news stories, which alter our perception of reality, leading to hyper-politicization, fake news and conspiracy theories. 

Social media companies design news feeds, like other features, to keep you engaged, and this means that the news content tells you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear in order to have an accurate perception of the world. By understanding the basic factors below, you can better understand how social media companies alter your news feed.

 

Relevance/Interest

Photo by Tamara Nguyen.

If you post about cute cat videos, the algorithm (a computer program that follows a set of rules and is used by companies to track users) happily dissects your posts and matches content with key words in your posts, like “cute” animals or “cats.” This is how the algorithm knows you care about cute cat videos. 

Relationships/Groups

The algorithm does count the number of times you interact with other people, as well as tracking which social media groups you’ve been a part of the longest. The algorithm matches your news with your groups, so if you’re part of a group that is either left or right leaning, your news feed, like a chameleon, starts serving news to fit your political appetite. On a more extreme note, joining conspiracy groups like the Flat Earthers will cause your feed to look like your group’s posts. 

Example of a feed. Photo by Tamara Nguyen.

Media Type

I’m a meme man myself and loathe GIFs for the time they take to open on my phone. Thus, my feeds, out of the main media types (picture, video, or link), are mostly pictures. 

Popularity/Most Recent

The program recognizes our desire to get the most recent posts, and by extension realizes that posts that are popular through comments, likes, or any other related metric have a stronger chance of engaging the user, if not by likability then by peer pressure to stay in the know. For example, a recently viral meme that has many comments and likes has a much higher chance in being in your feed, as compared to an older, lesser known meme.