Instagram's algorithms + why I'm mute on the Queen's passing
a few rants that you will probably have opinions on
A few things on my mind this week. So let’s do a snappy snippet deal. Not so much informative as prompt for discussion.
Firstly, do you mind if I point you to my latest Wild episode in which Josh Szeps (ABC radio host, Joe Rogan regular…who “annihilated” Joe during a rambling frustrating chat about vaccines a few months back) has me on his Uncomfortable Conversations podcast to chat sugar, cannonau wine, class wars, woke-speak, ethics, the decline of innovation in wealthy countries, how men around the world behave on dating apps and the perils of looking like could be on an insurance ad. Josh is fun and generous and our chat is a noble wrestle that I thoroughly enjoyed:
1. What do I make of the algorithmic changes on Instagram?
You’ve no doubt noticed weird stuff happening in your IG feed. You no longer see certain friend’s posts any more. You get fed a whole lot more “suggested posts” from folk you’ve never heard of, and videos/reels of randoms dancing in their bathroom while lunging in close to the camera applying makeup (#sp). If you’re an influencer of whatever magnitude, you might have noticed your reach, likes and comments on posts is now a fraction of what it used to be. It’s a real thing; you’re not imagining it. On average, the public now only see 10% of the posts shared by accounts they follow.
There is talk that it is part of IG’s shadowblocking or shadowbanning practices, whereby IG goes in and specifically restricts certain accounts. In the past they’ve restricted accounts that use problematic hashtags, comment too fast and too much (they smell a bot!) and so on. But there is “talk” that this now extends to anyone who pushes a product - a book, a podcast, an online store, even a charity. A UK influencer I know says that any post using a professional picture of her face seems to be affected by…whatever is going on. If she shows a picture of the cover of her book (which has her face on it), the likes grind to a halt. Even when it is merely in situ. Noticed the same?
I can’t confirm nor deny this (although I did approach Meta and asked them direct; I got no answer), but can report any post I put up that refers to one of my projects (including my charities) gets about 5-10 per cent of the traction of my other posts, and of all posts, say, from earlier this year. Ditto anything that features my face in what could be “seen” as a promo shot.
A lot of this is apparently happening because IG is haemorrhaging followers to TikTok and they’re trying to adjust, something that was leaked yesterday.
To a large extent a business like Instagram can do what they want. They are not a community service. We have to remember this. We can, of course, vote with our dollar or attention (although I acknowledge that the in-built addictive mechanisms of social media platforms make this argument not so straightforward).
We can lament where platforms like IG seem to be driving humanity (to a sensationalist, performative, distracted, materialist nadir?). And we can call to account the Metas of the world on monopolisation and those in-built addiction mechanisms, as well as on the responsibilities they have to ensure their platform does not enable hate speech etc. But we can’t really complain when they change their business model. There was no contract between them and us committing to nice tiles that followed a chronological, egalitarian format. Nor can we complain if we have built a business relying on a third-party platform that has mostly been free (although what price do you put on our data?). This is the risk we take.
A Google search, however, revealed there are things we can do to reduce our risk of being shadowbanned (don’t use the hashtags #brain #italiano or #pushups for instance (!?); here’s a full list of the banned tags, updated in August 2022). Perhaps my favourite de-shadowbanning tip is this: take a 48-hour break. It can be enough to reset the algorithms. Apparently. I have also noticed that some people are hiding their likes, I’m assuming because they don’t want people to see how (algorithmically) “unpopular” they’ve become.
I’ve done all the suggested fixes to reset the algorithms. But, alas, no banana. And so I’m just going to get philosophical. Which is always the best way to deal with a cul-de-sac. Some good things come to an end. And often because they needed to. I’m not going to quit IG. I’ll just let it die off naturally, as per its own self-eating DNA. Unless, of course, Meta jumps in with a fix…which I suspect it might just.**
2. What do I make of the Queen’s death?
I respect Queen Elizabeth from what I have learned about her work and character. She was clearly a funny, smart, dignified human. But I have not waded in on her passing out of respect for the impact that the monarchy and colonisation has had on indigenous peoples. This is more important right now than a celebration of her individual life and person.
Three more thoughts:
I think the ABC has got this prioritisation out of whack in their news coverage. Their blanket coverage is overkill, to the point of being inappropriate and insensitive. They have come under fire from a few commentators. Barrie Cassidy made a great point on Twitter:
I do think we need to fully address the legacy of colonisation and the parliamentary protocols around the passing of a member of the Royal Family (seriously, Parliament goes into mourning for two weeks?). But this should wait a few weeks out of respect for those who are mourning. We can do all of it, respectfully and kindly.
A referendum on a republic should not happen until the referendum for a First Nations Voice to Parliament passes. If you want to learn more about this, listen to this podcast:
One more suggestion:
Ditch the royal watching and listen to what indigenous communities are asking us to do. Check out what ClothingTheGaps and TheUluruStatement on IG are sharing/saying. Also CheekMedia featured a guest rant from my mate Holly (Jack River), which is worth a read.
Any other suggested sites to get info? The above is not comprehensive at all.
2. Call centres are destroying us
I’ve been on calls to various call centres (mostly on call waiting) for a total of 9.5 hours in the past two weeks. The experience, as we all know, is entirely dehumanising and not just because it tests patience.
It pits us against each other and specifically it pits the often powerful against far more marginalised groups and nations. Rich, vocal people who buy things and pay for services wind up with complaints that drive them to phone a call centre where they argue it out with some of the lowest paid, lowest skilled workers in the country, if not the world. This is not a fair battle. The discrepancy makes it very difficult for the job to get done. And it brings out the ugliness in all of us.
Who hasn’t sat on a call and got all ugly in the head with the attendant’s English? Who hasn’t found themselves turning truly vile as they spit out the details of the issue for the 203423492th time? The process drives us to it. Me, I have never been more of a bitch than I have been on “customer care” calls. I watch myself and I can’t recognise the person I become.
It’s all made worse by the fact that at every turn the experience is depersonalised. We don’t get the call attendant’s name (and they call us Madam or Sir, further widening the divide), they are often ordered to work to a script and very rarely given licence to solve the problem with us in an organic, collaborative way, and then…there’s the hangups, which mostly kick in after you’ve been on hold for hours, or when you’re just starting to explain the issue after finally getting through. There is never a callback. You have to start from scratch, which means you are burning with rage by the time someone eventually gets to you. At Qantas this has become a very real thing. I have experienced it four times.
Apparently there is also a thing called predictive hangup - where companies program the system so that customers get hung up on in peak times. “Predictive-hang up makes customers think that their calls are disconnected because of some technical issues or network problems on their end.” Which I’m guessing sees customers abort the whole process…the desired outcome, I guess.
It’s just horrible, isn’t it? And set up for failure. And for the fragmentation of society. If only we could actually talk, see each other’s faces! I once tried to send a gift to a really kind and helpful (Qantas) call operator recently; the system wouldn’t allow it. The whole thing exemplifies the worst of what we are being driven to by the system we have created.
One last observation here. I’ve noticed call operators now hang up very frequently at the slightest whiff of conflict. I said “bloody hell” when the screen on my computer crashed as I tried to bring up an email for the guy on the other end of the line. “We do not tolerate that language, M’am,” he said and hung up, never to be found again. I checked out online forums…this kind of “uber triggered” hang up has also become a thing. And I wonder if it’s not more about managing call volume (like predictive hang-upping) rather than a noble quest to combat abusive behaviour.
OK. I can never do a short listicle post. I thought I might this time, but alas.
** Please note, I wrote this item before connecting that I have just joined forces with a new social media app - WeAre8 - and it could all be taken as a little “vested”. The two things are not unconnected, of course, but I’ll save a full rundown on this for the next post.