Stupidity recommended for you

Social media, media streaming services and gig economy platforms all use recommender systems to make guesses about what we like by analyzing ours and others behavior. These systems can make an abundance of options seem trivial and sometimes make decisions seem so obvious that we don't even think of them as choices. This is comfortable and saves us time, but will result in the loss of something else.


One problem is that we are risking to gradually make ourselves more similar to the prototype of us that the recommender system is constructing. To make ourselves make more sense we will feel a need to rationalize the choices we made. There is a concept in social psychology that is known as post decision bias, that in short describes our tendency to be more likely to find evidence that support that the decision we made was correct, than evidence of the contrary, after the decision has been made. We feel better when we can reassure ourselves that the choice we made was the only right one because it increases positive emotions like pride and decreases unpleasant feelings such as remorse. This means that we will look for reassurance in our external environment as well as changing or adding facts to the story about ourselves. Thoughts and statements like: I choose A and it was the right choice because I am the kind of person that likes A. So the recommendation system gives us what it thinks that we want, and at the same time we are drawn to becoming more like the person that wants just that. That way our human brains underlying mechanics is helping the system to appear more accurate than it actually is.


Another related concept in social psychology is confirmation bias. The fact that we tend to be more attentive to signs around us that support what we already believe. Personalized search results and feeds enhances this effect by also changing our actual environment; subjecting it to a sort of mechanical confirmation bias, even before it reaches our cognition. That decreases even further our chances of discovering facts that contradict our beliefs.


One option for those who wish to make searches without getting personalized results is the search engine DuckDuckGo. There are also social media platforms that don't personalize your feed or add customized advertising and instead just gives you chronologically sorted posts like the Instagram clone Pixelfed. I have listed more options on the page: Indie Choices.



It would be interesting to develop a search engine, that instead of amplifying our confirmation bias would work against it, by using our preferences to select search results that will widen our views. A search engine that makes us surprised, curious, sometimes confused but always less simple minded. Or a recommender system that gives you: This is what others, that are not at all like you, found interesting.


In so called qualitative research the aim is to expose all the nuances of an investigative material, rather than to weigh these nuances fairly according to how common they are. We could build a social media platform based on that principle. All posts go through a classification process that creates categories based on similarity to other posts. The goal of the network is then to expose the users to posts that are as varied (heterogeneous) as possible. In concrete terms: As many different categories and as few from the same category. You can't follow or be followed. You can like posts, in which case that poster gets notified, but it does not change your future feed. Posts will not, through sharing and feedback phenomena become viral. What you see when you look into the network is not what is trending or what is most commonly posted (cats and babies doing cute things), but a balanced overview of everything that is happening on the network.


Sat, 12 Jan 2019

#RecommenderSystem #ConfirmationsBias #SocialMedia #AttentionEconomy