The social media world was shaken up last week with the announcement that Instagram is switching to a non-chronological newsfeed order, a timeline of posts controlled by an algorithm.
Sandra Robinson, a faculty member at Carleton University who researches and teaches about algorithmic culture, said one of the goals of a social media algorithm is to extract meaningful information from users, based on their interactions, in an effort to better target ads.
“It could be a huge win for advertisers,” Robinson said.
Instagram has said the changes would be made in the “coming months” but some of the platform’s most followed users have posted the changes would come into effect this week.
Instagram said the switch will improve the experience for users, but Robinson said that all depends on the patterns the app picks up.
“It all hinges on algorithms and machine learning to shape what they believe we want to see based on what we’ve been doing on the app,” Robinson said.
The proposed changes do not sit well with some Humber College students.
Tristan Malaran, a health sciences student, said the changes may transform Instagram from a social media app into a popularity contest.
Malaran said he is a daily user of the app and doesn’t focus on the likes, but said that some may change up their posts to try to get seen.
“People will really try to alter themselves, just so they can get the likes,” Malaran said.
Malaran said he thinks insecurities will sky rocket with users when the changes are made.
“Everyone has an equal share, as of right now,” he said. “If it’s going to happen like that, of course celebrities are going to be more on the higher end than other people.”
Robinson said the changes may be problematic and concerns the app will become a popularity contest are reasonable.
“Certainly it does move towards that experience where popularity becomes part of what ranks what kind of flow is going to show up in people’s Instagram feed,” she said.
Kathy Keonavongsa, an esthetician/spa management student, said that she likes how Instagram is now and doesn’t see the point in changing the app.
“I’m already missing a lot of the stuff that people update on,” Keonavongsa said.
Instagram said that people miss on average 70 per cent of their feeds.
The popular social media platform offers a solution to missing content by allowing users to turn on post notifications for their favourite accounts, which Keonavongsa uses.
Keonavongsa has more than 2,500 Instagram followers but isn’t worried that her posts may not get seen with the new algorithm.
“For me, my Instagram is just what I want to show people and if people want to see it, they can see it,” she said “I’m not going to push anyone to see it.”
In February, Twitter introduced a new algorithmic timeline but allowed users to turn off the setting.
Robinson said Instagram could follow Twitter’s lead to give users of the app a choice in how their feed is constructed.
“I think that a way to mitigate frustration is to make users feel like they have some control and that it’s not just being left up to an algorithm to decide on their behalf,” she said.