Social Media Algorithms and Their Effects
We all know about and use some form of social media platform, whether it be Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok or Twitter just to name a few. In fact, it’s rare to come across someone who doesn’t use at least one (though some use none at all!)
Social media can be a great place to connect with friends, family, and colleagues. It can be a place to document selfies, day-to-day life, or for businesses to promote their products. Social media can also be a place where cyberbullying and harassment can freely take place. And whilst these platforms have measures in place to try and avoid these instances happening, there are circumstances that slip through the net.
What are Social Media Algorithms?
Social media algorithms are one of many tools used by technology companies on the popular apps, websites, and games that we use daily. Content is decided from the videos you watch, links you click, pages you follow or any accounts you interact with – that’s how the algorithm will show you things they think you will interact with.
Algorithms, believe it or not, mean that no two people on an app like TikTok will see exactly the same content, even if they happen to follow the same accounts or have similar profiles. Why is this? This is because the algorithms learn from our behaviour whilst we’re online and make decisions about what content to show us based on lots of different information.
Are Algorithms Positive?
Because algorithms can connect you to things you might like and enjoy watching or seeing based on things you already like and view, it can be intriguing to see more of the things you like. So for children, if they, watch videos of their favourite show,, or a specific topic they may be studying at school for example, they are, likely to be suggested more of those videos along with videos on similar topics.
Some algorithms can also stop us from seeing content we won’t find interesting or enjoyable. Using their knowledge of a user they are able to, avoid showing them content that they weren’t interested in before. Algorithms can be useful in keeping content relevant and appropriate for certain age groups, especially if your account uses age restrictions or parental controls.
Not maintaining a healthy screen time balance
Like with anything, we can easily get addicted. So, screen time is no different and trying to create a healthy screen time balance can be tricky. The urge we have to watch ‘just one more’ can be hard to resist when algorithms continuously show us videos they know we will love.
Lack of varying opinions
As we know, algorithms show us content that apps and companies think will interest us. Whilst this is great, it also means that we are more likely to see content that matches our own opinions about the world rather than a variation of realistic views and different perspectives. This can be referred to as an ‘echo chamber’. An echo chamber can make people see their beliefs or opinions as more common or important than they are.
Exposure to unsuitable content
The last thing parents and carers want to worry about is what their children are exposed to online. Whilst age restrictions within app settings and on websites is great and gives some peace of mind, there are still things that can slip through the net. Some social media companies have been criticised over the years for creating algorithms that gradually show people more upsetting or extreme content based on their interests. Let’s say for example that a child is into gaming and likes to watch videos with gaming techniques and tricks, an algorithm could start showing more non-age-appropriate graphic gaming videos, or adverts for gambling and gaming addiction. This kind of content could potentially become addictive for a child or even harmful to their mental health.
What is targeted advertising?
Targeted advertising refers to adverts based on the content being viewed. Adverts shown to the user are what the algorithm deems appealing based on the content being viewed and liked. Naturally, targeted advertising can be hard to resist, especially if it’s something you are already in the market for! You can imagine a child coming across an advert for a fantastic jazzy new toy they suddenly want or tickets for a trip out and how expensive that could become for the parents, especially if they are on a device already set up with apps like PayPal, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, etc.
How can parents support their child?
Social media isn’t all bad, in fact it can be a really exciting way for a child to communicate with other friends and family, while having access to videos, posts and images that they find interesting. We would always suggest openly speaking with children about how to view content safely and how to voice concerns should anything go wrong, or if they feel something they’ve seen isn’t right.
Practical tips for avoiding bad content:
• Always register accounts with the correct age – especially if you’re setting up an account for your children.
• Search for accounts with positive and enjoyable content to follow.
• Follow a variation of accounts with different perspectives.
• Ensure your children know how to unfollow or mute accounts that aren’t appropriate.
• Be aware of how to report content on apps and websites.
How Can Senso Help?
Senso's platform allows schools to monitor and manage students' devices and online behaviour. When it comes to social media on student devices, technical teams can log and block websites deemed distracting or inappropriate. Senso makes it possible to filter and sort by severity, phrase, user, keyword, and visual threat. Flexible reviewing of violations can help schools to, pinpoint those that require support quickly as well as providing full browsing history to understand online activity in a wider context.
Whilst we can’t stop social media algorithms from happening or stop students from accessing social media in their own time, we can support schools in stopping them from accessing social media on the school networks. Minimising distractions, off-task behaviour and accessing inappropriate content during school time or any time a student is on a school-owned device setup on the school network is a part of that. This means that even for students with school-owned devices at home, accessing inappropriate content won't be possible thanks to Senso.
Want to know more?
Senso's safeguarding gives both teachers and parents peace of mind.
If you would like more information on what Senso can do for you and your school or business, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!