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Friday, May 24, 2024

Humans battle it out against algorithms in the newest online culture war

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In Short:

Brands and bots are not allowed on Spread, and there are no ads on the platform. The focus is on human engagement rather than maximizing time-on-site. Jonathan Stray of UC Berkeley believes that simple feeds can also have issues like recency bias and spam, and that more algorithms may be needed to solve social media problems. Group messaging is becoming more popular for a more personalized and controlled social experience, although it also has its own biases and challenges.

Spread Bars Brands and Bots:

Spread, like PI.FYI, is a platform that does not support ads and prohibits brands and bots from participating. Instead of focusing on maximizing time-on-site, the platform’s success metrics prioritize “meaningful” human engagement. This is measured by actions like clicking on another user’s recommendation and subsequently signing up for a newsletter or subscription. Founder Rogers aims to align companies’ content with users’ interests, aiming for a more authentic social experience.

Chronological Feeds and Social Media:

Jonathan Stray, a senior scientist at the UC Berkeley Center for Human-Compatible AI, raises concerns about social networks without ranking algorithms. He cautions that chronological feeds may not always be the best solution, as they can lead to recency bias and spam. Stray acknowledges that complex algorithms are not inherently harmful, but agrees that the industry’s focus on maximizing engagement does not always lead to positive outcomes.

The Role of Algorithms:

Stray suggests that the answer to social media algorithm problems may lie in developing more sophisticated algorithms. He launched the Prosocial Ranking Challenge, offering a $60,000 prize to improve feed-ranking algorithms for better outcomes, promoting user well-being and informative content. The competition aims to test winning algorithms on popular platforms like Facebook, X, and Reddit.

Escape from Engagement Algorithms:

Until a better alternative emerges, avoiding engagement-driven algorithms often means opting for chronological feeds. The preference for algorithm-free experiences extends beyond niche platforms like PI.FYI and Spread.

Group Chats and Social Interaction:

Group messaging serves as a supplement to curated social media feeds, offering a more intimate space for sharing content. The disdain for algorithmic influence may explain the rise in popularity of messaging apps like WhatsApp. Despite the shift towards direct messaging within dominant social apps like Instagram, group chats can still foster echo chambers.

The Quest for Perfect Information:

While group messaging provides a more organic compilation of content, it can also perpetuate biases and echo chambers. The pursuit of an ideal information feed continues, even as users seek refuge from algorithmic influence.

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