Beating Algorithmic Addiction

Everything you do online controls what you see online.

That YouTube video you saw the other day on upper-body workouts, the first workout video you’ve ever seen in your life, has inadvertently sent your google account into a frenzy as it now starts curating and showing you advertising content on local gyms. Walking into that sexual health clinic anonymously? Well, Facebook has been notified via your locational settings, and in 3 hours time you’ll start receiving news items on chlamydia and gonorrhoea outbreaks in your area. Oh, and that post about golden showers with which you just retweeted on Twitter? Good luck filtering out the adverts from that…

But this is normal, and you cannot really control it. You could switch off your locational settings to truly keep your sexual health clinic visit a secret, but – unless you become Amish – tailored content isn’t going anywhere. And hey, think of the perks about tailored advertising: Liking all those President Trump news stories will keep you in the loop on all his antics, and it can be good to know about STI outbreaks.

However, for the purpose of this post, I’d like to discuss the darker side of algorithms. Something called the filter bubble; or what I like to call algorithmic addiction. (QUICK, PRESS PLAY!)

It really only takes that one YouTube video on Flat Earth Theory to lead you to a couple more and then, before you know it, you’re a Flat Earther. And just like any other addiction, if you do not have the willpower to substitute your addiction with a healthy alternative, you’ll remain a Flat Earther til you hit rock bottom – which is probably being friendless and not taken seriously.

If you are a Flat Earther, here’s a video to help your addiction:

Gosh, it feels good to help someone out with their unhealthy addiction. But, Flat Earth Theory is not as worrisome for the rest of society compared to the alarming support of President Trump. Or the worrying fear of persistent and growing racism, sexism, homophobia and even ableism. If we re-consider tailored advertising and content curated from your online footprints, you can see where I’m heading towards.

Those who love President Donald Trump have built themselves – through sheer determination and closed mindedness – a filter bubble, where only the news organisations who love Trump, the Twitter accounts who praise Trump, and the friends who talk about Trump are the only things to hit their social media. Which brings me to my first tip in beating algorithmic addiction.

Be Open Minded To “Alternative Facts”

In the case of President Trump, a lot of what comes out of the media regarding this man is heresy… I mean hearsay. Just recently, Trump was quoted calling African countries as “shithole” countries in a meeting with officials, which went unchallenged by Trump for a couple of days until he came forward and rebuked them. And let’s not forget that while some reported it as true, two officials within the meeting came forward and said they couldn’t recall the words ever being said.

Nothing is certain. So for this, and many other topics just like this, you may want to look at all sides rather than taking Trump’s side.

Another point on open mindedness is to ask pertinent questions. Like, why would officials smear Trump with this? And if they did it on purpose, what does that say about Trump’s social status within government?

But there’s another way to leave the filter bubble and beat your algorithmic addiction:

Alright, I’ll give up on the dramatic sound…

Start From Scratch

Sometimes that spiral can happen in a few minutes, like a kid’s first taste of candy. Once you pop, you cannot stop – as the slogan goes. You search for “pretty Christmas lights” on Instagram on your 10 minute morning break at work, and by lunchtime you have a YouTube video called “Don’t let the lefties take Merry Christmas away” blaring away in one the 20 tabs up on your internet browser. Your best bet in these circumstances is to close down all your tabs (that are not work related) and start your search for pretty Christmas lights again. Maybe you should use “awesome” instead of “pretty” this time.

Although, sometimes you can spiral into some really great stuff. My rule for this is: if it makes you laugh like a schoolboy learning how to type boobies on a calculator for the first time, keep going.

Keep Them Guessing

This is the best! As a journalist, I write stories that range from topics that would not fit in the same room together, which makes my Facebook wall look like it’s owned by several different people. Last month I was bombarded by Uluru tourism information after researching and writing up an article on non-climbing activities to undertake when visiting Uluru. After I finish this article here, I’ll probably get content on Flat Earth Theory, Donald Trump, and videos of how to type boobies on a calculator by tomorrow morning.

Your colleagues wont know what to think when they look over your shoulder.

As for algorithmic addiction, keeping your online footprint on a random run will hinder any chance of falling into a spiral on a particular topic. But do remember to adhere to being open minded.

Question Anything That Looks Iffy

I’m not going to lie, there’s plenty of information out there that can make your face scrunch up. Especially memes. Just like that meme going around at the moment of a fake excerpt from the widely popular Fire and Fury book by Michael Wolff, where it said White House officials made a gorilla channel to appease the president. If not, here it is below:

Fake Fire and Fury excerpt. Image:

Fake Fire and Fury excerpt. Image:

To be (again) perfectly clear, the above excerpt is fake. And this is why it pays to be vigilant online. Getting sucked into a whirlpool of polarised information is bad enough, but it is worse to be sucked into a whirlpool of misinformation.

So remember, to prevent unwanted algorithmic addiction, please be open minded, start from scratch when you’re stuck in a hole, keep them guessing, and question anything that looks ify.

…Or, you know, you could become Amish.