UNIT 3. SOCIAL MEDIA

Part А: How Social Media Works

Is social media a reliable news source? Learn how social media algorithms work and how they can isolate us from different points of view.
BY EDERA & IREX
Social Media
as a News Source
We spend a lot of time on social media: either sharing personal information, communicating with friends or reading the news. But do you ever think about why we sometimes only see certain kinds of posts in our news feed? Can we trust everything that we see online?
Learn how Facebook and Instagram work in the video below.
Personalized Algorithms
and Filter Bubbles
Who decides what you see in your news feed on Facebook? How often do you encounter different points of view there? Facebook, who own Instagram; and Google, who own YouTube, are all pretty good at showing you what you want and hiding things you dislike or disagree with.

Everything that contradicts your beliefs is filtered out. And there you are – in a filter bubble! This term was coined by internet activist Eli Pariser. He even wrote a book about this phenomenon: The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You.
Being inside a filter bubble means that you are in intellectual isolation which seems surprising when you are thinking about the internet. How can you be isolated when the world is more connected than ever before?

Websites can track what you search for, what you click on, what you "like" or "dislike", what you comment on, and even your location. These algorithms track all this personal information and sometimes "decide" what you might like to see based on these patterns. This means that search results, links, advertisements, and posts on Facebook can be tailored to your previous behavior online. For example, if you have googled climate change, your newsfeed might become full of posts, articles, and videos from environmental organizations.

Without filters, you might get lost in all the information available online. However, you can also miss out on the information that is important but that online algorithms do not classify as relevant for you based on their observation of your behaviors and interests.
Social media and search engines can isolate you from online content that contains alternative views or different information. As a result, this can limit your awareness about the diversity of opinions and perspectives on events, trends, and problems that are happening in the world around you.

In his book, Eli Pariser says that, "Democracy requires citizens to see things from one another's point of view, but instead we're more and more enclosed in our own bubbles. Democracy requires a reliance on shared facts; instead, we're being offered parallel but separate universes."

Because of filter bubbles, you may start to think that the whole world thinks the way you do. This is rarely the case. You are likely just being shielded from other points of view because they're outside of your filter bubble. Over time, this can lead to greater political polarization of society, and to people having more extreme political views

What can you DO to break free from your own filter bubble?
Be aware that the information to which you are exposed is often determined by your own preferences.
Question yourself. Why might someone have an alternative point of view? How do they support their statements? Deliberately seek out alternative information from new and varied sources.
Question the sources. It's really easy to forget about checking the original source when you see the information you agree with, especially when it's posted by your friends on Facebook or written by people whom you respect.
Quiz: Algorithms
in Social Media
Do You Depend on Algorithms?
You already know a lot about algorithms in social media. Have a look at the following questions.
START
Who are those old people in my newsfeed? Oh well, my friends used FaceApp to make their faces look older. You can change your face for free, just install the app and give it access to your camera and photos. Would you give this app access to your photos and other data?
Warning! Users often "pay" for free apps and popular Facebook tests like "Who you were in a past life" with their private information. Web development companies can even sell this information to third parties. It sounds scary, doesn't it? So before checking out what you will look like in 40 years or trying a new hairstyle through an app, find out what kind of access you are giving the app and if it has permission to write posts or messages on your behalf.
Warning! Users often "pay" for free apps and popular Facebook tests like "Who you were in a past life" with their private information. Web development companies can even sell this information to third parties. It sounds scary, doesn't it? So before checking out what you will look like in 40 years or trying a new hairstyle through an app, find out what kind of access you are giving the app and if it has permission to write posts or messages on your behalf.
NEXT
CHECK
SHOW RESULT
You and your friends just discussed how great it would be to go to Eurotrip. And now your newsfeed is full of tourism advertisements — flights, hotel reservations, and articles about places worth visiting. Are your gadgets listening to you?
So far there is no proof that Facebook is listening to our private conversations (neither on Facebook Messenger nor our in-person conversations). However, there are algorithms in social media Michael and Diana talked about. These algorithms process user information and behavioral patterns every day — what you "like", where you are and what places you usually visit, what you are interested in and what pages you follow. In addition, social networks recognize text and graphic content, for example, photos you share with your friends. This information helps not only to analyze the user but also to predict his or her online behavior.


Facebook also analyzes search results and activity on other websites where you can use your Facebook log-in details, such as Booking.com or Airbnb.
So far there is no proof that Facebook is listening to our private conversations (neither on Facebook Messenger nor our in-person conversations). However, there are algorithms in social media Michael and Diana talked about. These algorithms process user information and behavioral patterns every day — what you "like", where you are and what places you usually visit, what you are interested in and what pages you follow. In addition, social networks recognize text and graphic content, for example, photos you share with your friends. This information helps not only to analyze the user but also to predict his or her online behavior.


Facebook also analyzes search results and activity on other websites where you can use your Facebook log-in details, such as Booking.com or Airbnb.
NEXT
CHECK
SHOW RESULT
Lately, I have only seen news on social media from my close friends. Why so?
Social media algorithms can track who you communicate with more often and show you their updates more prominently. This is a kind of information bubble.


Algorithms may seem useful and harmless to the average user. But keep in mind that because of algorithms your newsfeed may not just be full of interesting and useful content but also full of disinformation and propaganda.
Social media algorithms can track who you communicate with more often and show you their updates more prominently. This is a kind of information bubble.


Algorithms may seem useful and harmless to the average user. But keep in mind that because of algorithms your newsfeed may not just be full of interesting and useful content but also full of disinformation and propaganda.
Social media algorithms can track who you communicate with more often and show you their updates more prominently. This is a kind of information bubble.


Algorithms may seem useful and harmless to the average user. But keep in mind that because of algorithms your newsfeed may not just be full of interesting and useful content but also full of disinformation and propaganda.
NEXT
CHECK
SHOW RESULT
You have never been interested in politics, but before elections, you see posts about candidate N more and more often. Look, here he gives an interview to a famous internet-blogger, and here is his photo with a puppy of your favorite breed. Some of your Facebook friends shared a political meme from the candidate's official page. What's going on?
It is not fate, it is targeted advertising. Algorithms in social networks analyze not only your behavior and interests but also your friends: your shared photos and geotags. This allows them to categorize information and group users to show them the most relevant information.

Social networks can sell this information to advertisers to make their campaigns more successful. If you like coffee and cats, don't be surprised when the social network shows you messages about a new cat cafe next to your home.

To tune up your Facebook you can customize your ad preferences in your profile.
https://www.facebook.com/ads/preferences/?entry_product=ad_settings_screen
It is not fate, it is targeted advertising. Algorithms in social networks analyze not only your behavior and interests but also your friends: your shared photos and geotags. This allows them to categorize information and group users to show them the most relevant information.

Social networks can sell this information to advertisers to make their campaigns more successful. If you like coffee and cats, don't be surprised when the social network shows you messages about a new cat cafe next to your home.

To tune up your Facebook you can customize your ad preferences in your profile.
https://www.facebook.com/ads/preferences/?entry_product=ad_settings_screen
NEXT
CHECK
SHOW RESULT
People in social networks are posting the message: "Tomorrow a new Facebook rule will come into force. Everything you've ever posted becomes public. I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, messages or posts."

Should you post this as well?
It seems that not everyone read Facebook's terms and conditions. When you create an account on Facebook you allow then to share some personal data. This information is necessary for algorithms to work. Advertisers can also get this information to plan their targeted campaigns. Relax, none of your rebellious posts will help.
It seems that not everyone read Facebook's terms and conditions. When you create an account on Facebook you allow then to share some personal data. This information is necessary for algorithms to work. Advertisers can also get this information to plan their targeted campaigns. Relax, none of your rebellious posts will help.
NEXT
CHECK
SHOW RESULT
Sugar is the white death. It's so cool that my Facebook friends and my favorite online media are always talking about this. They write posts about it all the time.
Welcome to the filter bubble!

Filters in social networks work almost as filters in coffee machines: they do not allow unwanted particles to get into your cup (read: news feed). Algorithms used by social networks analyze your activity and your preferences in order to filter out the information which they think isn't relevant for you. In this way, they hide different points of view and isolate you intellectually. To break free from your filter bubble follow these simple rules:

  • think critically and check the information
  • search for alternative points of view and information sources
  • be alert!
Welcome to the filter bubble!

Filters in social networks work almost as filters in coffee machines: they do not allow unwanted particles to get into your cup (read: news feed). Algorithms used by social networks analyze your activity and your preferences in order to filter out the information which they think isn't relevant for you. In this way, they hide different points of view and isolate you intellectually. To break free from your filter bubble follow these simple rules:

  • think critically and check the information
  • search for alternative points of view and information sources
  • be alert!
NEXT
CHECK
SHOW RESULT

More than 20,000 people shared these posts.
What about you — what would you do?
Sometimes webpages where they raffle a super-prize for a "share and subscribe" eventually turn into the webpage of a political party, online store or even a person who doesn't exist who has millions of subscribers.

Similar methods can be used to spread disinformation. In this case, they not only play on users' emotions but also use social networking algorithms to convey the harmful message to those who will most likely respond to it or believe it.

So before sharing information, even if a lot of people have already shared it, conduct your own little investigation — look at the page of the author, search for evidence in alternative sources, leave out your emotions and fact-check one more time.
Remember to care before you share!
Sometimes webpages where they raffle a super-prize for a "share and subscribe" eventually turn into the webpage of a political party, online store or even a person who doesn't exist who has millions of subscribers.

Similar methods can be used to spread disinformation. In this case, they not only play on users' emotions but also use social networking algorithms to convey the harmful message to those who will most likely respond to it or believe it.

So before sharing information, even if a lot of people have already shared it, conduct your own little investigation — look at the page of the author, search for evidence in alternative sources, leave out your emotions and fact-check one more time.
Remember to care before you share!
NEXT
CHECK
SHOW RESULT
Your friend has sent you a link with a message "Wow, I couldn't even imagine you were able to do this. There are even photos of it". Your reaction?
Always think critically about the information on social networks, even if you receive it from your friend in a direct message. Of course, if you receive such a message from a person you know pretty well — no need to worry, but best to ask them first. But if a person you hardly know or don't know at all suddenly sends such a message — it's better not to open it. You can fall victim to phishing on social networks — if you click the link someone could gain access to your private information. To make sure the link is secure ask your friend whether he or she really sent you this link.
Always think critically about the information on social networks, even if you receive it from your friend in a direct message. Of course, if you receive such a message from a person you know pretty well — no need to worry, but best to ask them first. But if a person you hardly know or don't know at all suddenly sends such a message — it's better not to open it. You can fall victim to phishing on social networks — if you click the link someone could gain access to your private information. To make sure the link is secure ask your friend whether he or she really sent you this link.
Always think critically about the information on social networks, even if you receive it from your friend in a direct message. Of course, if you receive such a message from a person you know pretty well — no need to worry, but best to ask them first. But if a person you hardly know or don't know at all suddenly sends such a message — it's better not to open it. You can fall victim to phishing on social networks — if you click the link someone could gain access to your private information. To make sure the link is secure ask your friend whether he or she really sent you this link.
NEXT
CHECK
SHOW RESULT
Let's be honest now. Do you really consider it necessary to read the policies before registering in a social network or an app?
Yes, terms and conditions are unlikely to be made into the plot of a Hollywood action film. However, we still recommend that you read them to be aware of what personal information a social network will have access to, how it can use this data and who else can have access to it.
Yes, terms and conditions are unlikely to be made into the plot of a Hollywood action film. However, we still recommend that you read them to be aware of what personal information a social network will have access to, how it can use this data and who else can have access to it.
NEXT
CHECK
SHOW RESULT
Disinfo attack! Strengthen your defense!
To feel safe driving, learn the traffic rules. It's the same with social networks. Understanding how social networks and the internet work is very important — your information security depends on it. We recommend that you review Unit 3; tips from Michael and Diana will help you to be safer online. Then take the quiz again.
TRY AGAIN
Disinfo: a hidden threat
You generally know how social media works and how they disseminate information. But maybe you have taken a few Facebook personality tests and given some apps access to your photos. Think critically and remember to review terms of use and to protect your information! Maybe take the quiz again?
TRY AGAIN
The return of the digital Jedi
You know a lot about algorithms used by social networks, filter bubbles, and disinformation. Keep it up! Technology is always developing, and new terms and conditions are regularly introduced, so keep up with the changes! Stay alert and share your knowledge with friends. And may the force be with you!
TRY AGAIN
BY EDERA & IREX
TED Talk:
Beware Online Filter Bubbles
Watch a TED talk by Eli Pariser "Beware online filter bubbles"
Vocabulary