A data scientist way to control social media instead of been controlled.
Recently, I find it has really become a big problem that people are worried about being controlled by social media platforms. Some of my friends close Facebook and Instagram accounts completely, while some still use it but with strong fear. As a data scientist, I have decided to take a different choice. It is always interesting to me to create data and manipulate the data-based algorithms to show data I want it to show. Therefore, I tried to train Facebook to give me the information I need, and… it worked! My ways may not work for everyone, and I really hope to learn what other people do to control the social media life. My wish is, eventually it can be users to control the social media instead of being controlled.
Before we start: Clear personal information
Any targeting analysis starts from your profile, gender, location, age, etc. Therefore, unless you really want Facebook to remind your friends of your birthday, my suggestion is to remove the personal information completely. Of course, removing does not mean Facebook will forget it, but that’s more a legal problem instead of a data science problem.
Tip 1: Create fake tags
Tagging is a great way to expose your interests and relationships directly to Facebook if you want to. For example, my lovely friend tagged me on this photo and said it was really nice traveling with me. This soon became a great material to the data scientists at Facebook to know who, when and where I traveled. I even did not upload any photos about this trip yet.
One easy way to confuse Facebook is to tag myself on another photo. For example, I may upload a photo with sunshine and blue ocean, tag myself and say something like “love this trip”. Tagging is a very important way to know who did I spend time with and whether the place in the photo was just some beautiful place I wished to share or it was truly a place I visited. For advanced users, using VPN is very helpful, too, which can hide your true geolocation and only expose it when you want to.
Tip 2: Find contents from different sources
Tip 1 uses tags to mislead Facebook algorithm about my interests and behaviors from tags, tip 2 tries to show a broad interests of me to Facebook so that I can be targeted by parties from different parts of the spectrum.
Showing above is the basic flowchart how targeting Ads are normally done. When a marketer advertise on Facebook, no matter if it is a political marketer or a commercial marketer, the basic way is to find people with common interests. Interests can be a product Ad you clicked, such as a baby monitor, a pet monitor, or an article your viewed which is related to a specific topic, such as human rights, blockchain, or a behavior type Facebook categorizes you as, such as early technology adopter.
Therefore, it is key to have contents from many different sources, the more the better. My way is to follow some fan pages which I am not interested in. For example, I am a dog lover instead of a fan of cats, I tried to search for cat groups and follow or even join them. Same for political parties, I followed the ruling party, the opposition and the candidates from all of them to allow diverse contents showing on my Facebook wall.
Tip 3: Try to engage with contents equally
Tip 2 creates the diversity of contents on my Facebook wall, and tip 3, which is the most important tip is to engage with them equally. As we all know that Facebook is really good at analyzing our engagement, therefore, every clicks, likes, and viewing time counts.
There are two main steps for tip 3:
- Categorize content using instinct and common sense
- Engage with them equally
First, I tried to categorize contents using instinct and common sense. For example, the message from the ruling party should be in the same group as the message from its president candidate, and should not be in the same groups to the opposition. I not only use political factors to define groups, but also age, gender, lifestyle, etc. I simply use dichotomy for all topics to simplify the process, for example, messages from people below 40, or messages from people above 40. I hate tagging people like this, but since Facebook is tagging us in this way, I need to follow the rule so that I can have a chance to fight back.
After creating simple groups in mind, I start engaging with contents from each groups equally. If I click a photo posted by my friend whose age is above 40, I tried to click another post from one friend whose age is under 40. If I watch a funny dog video, I would also click a cat video and let it play for the same amount of time.
Please remember, I am not doing research on how to categorize subjects in the world, but trying to create balance of my Facebook wall. Therefore, using instinct and common sense of the society to categorize should be good enough.
Tip 4: Check how you are targeted
After executing the three tips above for 1–2 weeks, I had already seen a big difference of contents I saw on my Facebook wall. The final tip is to continuously check how I am targeted.
One can tell easily whether the post is a real post from friends or a sponsored Ad by checking the Sponsored tag on the top-right corner of every post. I will constantly review “Why am I seeing this ad?” and check if I am targeted in the way I don’t like. Then, use the three tips above to re-balance.
Sometimes my friend said, it’s too complicated that not everyone can follow all the tips to create a balanced social media wall. Yea, I agree, it might look complicated now, but everyone will get used to it in the future, I believe. Think about it, social media platforms have only been in our life for about 10 years, we are controlled NOT because we HAVE TO be controlled, I would argue that it is because we are not yet familiar with the rules of using social media platforms. Just like democracy, it may take us time to learn how to use social media platforms in the right way, but I am sure we will get there.