How To Control Social Platform Algorithms, Before They Control You

Restoring The Balance of Power

I recently talked about the benefits of treating your social media habits as a something like a healthier diet vs. quitting platforms all together, a movement gaining traction. But, I didn’t get into how. I won’t pretend that I’ll be able to cover an exhaustive list in this article — but as someone who has participated in networks before the days of Facebook and even Twitter, I’ve made the kinds of mistakes early on that teach you what’s a positive and what’s a negative when it comes to managing the platforms that at times, can feel like they are managing us.

Turn Down The Volume Through Your Alerts

Maybe you’ve already done this. It’s a great place to start. By muting some of the alerts that nearly all platforms offer us — we’re already taking a significant amount of control back. Even if you just select a few, you are removing the temptation for to be “omnipresent”. That’s one of the great myths of social platforms that rob us of control. Much like “multitasking”, being omnipresent comes with a cost. You lose being present in the physical moment. I’ve been here. We all have most likely. Limiting your alerts can help manage your ability to be fully present in the moment. It’s a baby step to a much bigger discipline most of us need to master.

Self Diagnose What Fills vs. What Depletes, Then Prioritize Accordingly

It’s difficult to be reflective about our experiences on social platforms because once you’re in them — it’s like being dropped in a maze vs. looking at the maze from above. When we are in it, we’re focused on the twists and turns. We lose perspective. A simple exercise we can take is to take a few minutes to pause and reflect after spending some time on a platform. Did the experience impact you positively? Did it leave you feeling a sense of purpose? Was something accomplished? If it’s the opposite of these kinds of things, then make a note of it. Prioritize the platforms and interactions where the most positive value is provided vs. the ones that leave you feeling depleted and anxious. Cultivate the gardens that nurture you and leave the ones with poison Ivy to fend for itself. It doesn’t need you.

Don’t Let Platforms Be Your Only Newsfeeds

To say that platforms will stop being newsfeeds is naive, so I won’t insult your intelligence. But, balance can be restored by seeking out information from the source. Go to multiple news sites. Even “aggregators” such as Flipboard or Apple News — while dependent on their own algorithms, can be customized to present a broad spectrum of sources if you are willing and able to seek multiple perspectives. While the below media chart is subjective, it makes a good point that many news sources do tell stories from a specific perspective, this puts accountability on us to seek out different sources:

Because of our social graphs — our social newsfeeds can tend to promote that filter bubble you’ve heard so much of. It’s going to take spending more time outside of the filter to course correct.

Limit Social Caloric Intake

Both Facebook and Apple are creating tools that will be embedded into the experience. Once available — use them if you need them, and if you’re the type who likes to keep track of personal data. But, ultimately regardless of the tools we’re given, it’s up to us to push ourselves away from the table when we’re done “consuming” time, media and attention. Know when you’ve had enough and put the phone down.

Identify Triggers

It’s different for everyone. For me, I’ll often reach for my phone if I wake up early and the first thing I would check would be platform alerts. I still reach for the phone often but have been more successful at browsing the headlines vs. diving into a social platform newsfeed. Boredom can be a trigger, or simply seeing someone jump on their phone can send a signal that it’s ok to jump on yours. Spend a little time identifying your triggers and at minimum knowing what sends you into the arms of a social platform engaging in ways that after the fact, feel unfulfilling.

Avoid The “Asshole Effect”

I did a TEDx talk once upon a time about “reinventing” social media. These were still the early-ish days. Halfway through my talk, I confessed that social media had turned me into an Asshole at times. The “Asshole Effect” has become a widespread epidemic on social media across many platforms. Flame wars, toxic threads, name calling, and that’s not even getting into the stuff that either borders on hate or flat out dangerous rhetoric. When you’re engaging, no matter how right or righteous you think you are — know when the “Asshole Effect” is about to take over. Nobody wins when it does. And it’s contagious.

I’ve likely only scratched the surface with a few common sense suggestions. But if you’re relating to the concept of taking more control over the platforms that have the potential to control us (if we let them) — then you’re not alone.