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The Intent and Impact of Social Media Algorithms – Facebook & Twitter

September 24, 2023

The Intent and Impact of Social Media Algorithms – Facebook
and Twitter

Digital marketing today is largely focused on “playing the algorithm” to achieve prominence and
maximise exposure on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. However, it is
important to acknowledge that these algorithms are not necessarily designed to connect marketers with
potential customers/clients. In fact, all the most popular platforms have come under fire in recent years,
whether that be for their contribution to the spread of fake news, failure to control trolling or for driving
toxic beauty and lifestyle standards.

We’re taking a closer look at these algorithms across various social media platforms and diving deeper
into their intent and impact. In our first article on this topic, we’ll be focusing on Facebook and Twitter -
now being rebranded simply as ‘X’.

It’s no secret that social media has become increasingly important in recent years – to consumers,
businesses, celebrities, politicians and everyone in between. When used correctly and responsibly, social
media can be an incredible tool to connect people from all over the world, facilitate the spread of
valuable information and even place start-up businesses in front of a larger audience. Unfortunately, the
wide reach of these platforms also means that there can also be a lot of negative impacts, too.
This year, it was revealed that the EU would be cracking down on “toxic content” across a number of
these platforms (including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram). Platforms and search engines with
more than 45 million EU users were ordered to adhere to various requirements, including swiftly
removing illegal content, limiting disinformation, and implementing measures to better protect kids and

But what exactly is it about Facebook and Twitter that have gotten the platforms in hot water?
Facebook and Fake News

The term “fake news” was initially coined over a hundred years ago; yet, in recent years, it has become
synonymous with social media and, in particular, Facebook. During the 2020 US election, it was found
that fake news was far more popular than real news on the platform with articles from known purveyors
of misinformation receiving six times as many likes, shares, and other interactions as legitimate news
stories. It is also believed that a significant number of US adults were exposed to false stories on social
media prior to the 2016 election.

In response to these findings, Facebook and other social media platforms have introduced a range of
algorithmic changes aimed at reducing the spread of misinformation. But are they working? Well, if the
most popular posts during the Coronavirus pandemic are anything to go by – not really.
In July 2021, an analysis of CrowdTangle data showed that “nine of the top 15 top-performing Facebook
posts about vaccines promoted false or alarmist claims and were shared hundreds of thousands of
times.” The reason for this is often placed on Meta’s apparent prioritisation of engagement above all
else: false, misleading, and sensationalist posts tend to attract more engagement than factual content,
pushing these posts to more users.

Facebook said it took down 1.3 billion fake accounts between October and December 2020 and
removed more than 12 million pieces of content regarding COVID-19 and vaccines that global health
experts flagged as misinformation. However, in 2023, Meta announced that the policy, put in place to
curb the spread of misinformation related to COVID-19 on Facebook and Instagram would no longer be
in effect globally. This, in combination with past and ongoing controversies regarding the toxic nature of
the platform, continues to fuel scrutiny of Facebook and its parent company Meta.

Twitter Trolls

But when it comes to the toxicity of social media, recent findings suggest that it is Twitter that takes the
top spot. According to a 2022 study by SimpleTexting, which surveyed 1,018 social media users across
the US, Twitter topped the list of toxic apps with an average “toxicity rating” of 7.82 out of 10. The
second and third spots were taken by Reddit with a score of 7.63 and Facebook with 7.47. So, what is it
that makes Twitter so toxic?

Well, the main contributor is believed to be the high number of trolls that use the “micro-blogging”
platform. Respondents of the same study also considered Twitter to have the highest number of these
so-called trolls – people who post intentionally provocative or offensive comments to get attention or
cause trouble and/or upset other users.

This is despite ongoing announcements and efforts by the bosses at Twitter over the last few years to
curb such behaviour. Over four years prior to SimpleTexting’s study, Twitter announced a global change
to its ranking algorithm, aimed at improving the “health” of online conversations on its platform.
Notably, rather than focusing on the content of a tweet, the algorithm would assess the reactions from
other users. This approach was designed to push certain tweets further down in a list of search results
or replies, but not to remove them from the platform.

Unfortunately, this was far from the end of public scrutiny of the platform. Towards the end of 2022,
businessman Elon Musk took over the social media platform prompting a wave of controversies.
Following the takeover, company insiders claimed that Twitter was no longer able to “protect users
from trolling, disinformation, and child sexual exploitation”, due to a number of changes under Musk,
including mass job cuts across the company.

More recently, the toxic nature of Twitter was again pointed out by Meta CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.
Following Meta’s launch of ‘Threads’ last month, the Facebook creator pitched the app as a “friendly”
competitor of Twitter, telling reporters that “we are definitely focusing on kindness and making this a
friendly place.” But whether this idealistic vision will be successful remains to be seen.

There is no doubt that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter can help bring people together
and connect fledgling businesses and sellers with potential customers. Social media is now among the
most valuable tools available for digital marketers and businesses looking to grow their reach, but it is
important – perhaps now more than ever before – to be aware of and resistant to the more toxic
aspects of such platforms.

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