Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri recently posted an article on the company’s blog that generated a lot of attention. The intent of the article is (apparently, but we’ll get to that later) to give a first, superficial explanation of how the notorious algorithms work. There are thousands of articles on the subject, published with more or less knowledge of the matter in the last 6 or 7 years, but in this case it is the first to be officially put out by those directly involved.
In a rather elementary way, the piece tries to investigate why we see certain content rather than others. It explains how the order in which we see it is defined and what are the differences between these dynamics based on the various places within the app (feed, stories, explore, reels). An already quite simple piece already, but that could be summed up in a few lines and three concepts.
First concept: we cross the data of the posts (who posts, what, where, etc.) with those of your interactions (likes, comments, saves, shares). Then we show you more and more content in line with what normally interests you when you are on Instagram.
Second concept: feed and stories are mainly for your closest contacts and the profiles you already follow; explore tab and reels are meant to show you content from profiles that you do not follow but are in line with your interactions.
Third concept: if we block or restrict content, yours or others, it is for your safety; but we will endeavor to provide you with more detailed explanations in case we block one.
We explain how Instagram works
The resonance of the article was clearly very broad and transversal. But going beyond the “we explain how Instagram works”, which is at least a clever message, there are some considerations that are worth making. Surely for some categories of users the topic may be interesting, but the level of detail in this specific case is almost nil. That is to say that, from geeks to companies, from wannabe influencers to professionals, the concrete added value is in any case equal to zero.
This is because any social media manager or digital world enthusiast already knew these things. At the same time, companies or creators looking for secrets to grow and monetize in some way through the platform found themselves for the umpteenth time without a magic recipe to gain followers ( spoiler: does not exist).
Big Tech war
So why would a giant like Instagram, which is equivalent to saying Facebook, would bother to use the signature of a big shot and spread informations that, on closer examination, turn out to be clearly of little value? To generate media noise, one would think at first glance, but you will agree that they definitely do not need it in terms of presence for promotional purposes.
So it must be a matter of image. Given that the whole Big Tech world is increasingly under multiple magnifying glasses and needs its millions of users to take sides if necessary. But speaking of Big Tech, it is difficult not to think that the publication of such an article (the first of a series, even), which took place shortly after Apple‘s much-talked-about choice to give a firm squeeze on the possibility of tracing users, it is not accidental.
Yes, because, in case you are not updated, between Cupertino and Mountain View there is now an open war on the privacy front. If you have an iPhone, you have surely noticed the recent notifications asking for consent for data tracking. This activity allows millions of advertisers around the world to target you with their ads in a surgical way. And for a company whose almost all of its pharaonic earnings derive from advertising, this is a potentially lethal problem.
A question of awareness
What the article doesn’t say is that this whole algorithm thing is nothing more than Facebook and Instagram’s way of keeping us glued to their apps for as long as possible. More time, for them, equates to more ads viewed and therefore more money earned. And the bargaining chip is our attention. What the article aims to achieve, I therefore think, is a feeling of honesty and transparency which, albeit totally fictitious, goes against the perception of privacy violation that Apple’s media campaign is causing.
Let’s be clear: I am not saying this with the intention of demonizing the business model and the ethics behind it, also because it is nothing new. Traditional media have been doing the same thing for decades, with the only difference not to leverage some intrinsic weaknesses of the human being. But only because through print media, radio and TV it has never been possible. Not on such a large scale at least.
I say this because I believe that, in any situation, awareness is an indispensable element for freedom of thought and action. I have always believed that social media is not evil but simply a tool. Like a hammer or a pen, the difference is the people who use them and how they use them. And, as with the hammer and the pen, not being aware of what you are doing, sometimes you also risk getting hurt.