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Keep your algorithms out of my social media

By Marissa Stipek, For The Miami Student

Mondays get a bad rap. They mark the end of the weekend and the start of yet another workweek. However, there is one small thing I look forward to about Mondays.

Every Monday, I click the Spotify icon on my computer to check out the "Discover Weekly" option, a specially curated list of songs chosen just for me.

"Discover Weekly brings you two hours of custom-made music recommendations, tailored specifically to you and delivered as a unique playlist," according to the company's website. "Every song in Discover Weekly is based both on your own listening, as well as what others are play-listing and listening to around the songs you love."

Admittedly, Discover Weekly isn't worth the hype I give it. While every now and then the playlist provides me with a new hit, the vast majority of the songs are misses.

Sometimes it's a track by an artist I generally like, but that just doesn't appeal to me as much.

Sometimes it's a song all my friends have been singing, or that I know is popular on the radio, but that I can't stand.

And sometimes I end up with a heavy metal head-banger or banjo-strumming country tune - genres so far off from my tastes that I question how this playlist could ever be interest-based.

So, while the feature is well-intentioned and definitely provides a little fun for my Monday mornings, I can't say that it is always accurate.

A computer algorithm that monitors my listening and tries to make predictions about my preferences will never know me as well as I know myself. And the assumption that it could is becoming problematic, as more and more forms of social media are adopting algorithms in an attempt to tailor users' experiences.

Facebook has been doing this since 2014, and last month, Instagram announced that it, too, would be experimenting with "a new, content-controlling algorithm [that] will spotlight posts that it thinks users will most want to see at the top of their feed," the Huffington Post reported.

Instead of photos appearing chronologically in users' Instagram feeds, those that are assumed to be uninteresting will be bumped down, while those that are popular may sit at the top for longer periods of time.

But, wait. Doesn't this take away from the whole premise of Instagram - the idea that posts are seen instantly?

It's fun to see what people are doing at a given time, and the constantly moving feed is what keeps users engaged. Personally, I like having something new to see each time I open the app or hit refresh.

The algorithm will judge your interest based on how much you interact with other users' posts. A "like" shows interest, but not as much as a comment, which is given more weight.

But what if the algorithm chooses wrong? What if it eliminates accounts I do like, taking away my opportunity to interact with them further? The aim is to enable users to see more content without the worry of an overly cluttered newsfeed, but it seems this streamlined process will just narrow options down.

The new format means new rules. Instagram already resembles a strange competition of sorts - users vie for the most followers, likes or comments. Now, this type of positive feedback will be even more crucial to ensure users stay relevant in their friends' feeds. Lifestyle or company accounts will gain more power as well, making users' feeds more of a glorified ad reel than a glimpse into the lives of their family members and friends.

There are times and places when computer-generated suggestions can be fun. I like that Netflix gives me recommendations based on what I recently watched or added to my list. When I'm online shopping, it can be helpful if the website gives more ideas of products I might like. And, even though it sometimes makes me question my listening habits, I get a kick out of Spotify's Discover Weekly playlists. But I don't think algorithm use is necessary or beneficial to Instagram.

Unfortunately, the attempt to personalize Instagram will do just the opposite - it will take freedom away from users and ultimately make them detached from their experience.