It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when we lost control of what we see, read—and even think—to the biggest social-media companies.
I put it right around 2016. That was the year Twitter and Instagram joined Facebook and YouTube in the algorithmic future. Ruled by robots programmed to keep our attention as long as possible, they promoted stuff we’d most likely tap, share or heart—and buried everything else.
Bye-bye, feeds that showed everything and everyone we followed in an unending, chronologically ordered river. Hello, high-energy feeds that popped with must-clicks.
At around the same time, Facebook—whose News Feed has been driven by algorithms since 2009—hid the setting to switch back to “Most Recent.”
No big deal, you probably thought, if you thought about it at all. Except these opaque algorithms didn’t only maximize news of T. Swift’s latest album drops. They also maximized the reach of the incendiary—the attacks, the misinformation, the conspiracy theories. They pushed us further into our own hyperpolarized filter bubbles.