It’s Time to Kill the Algorithm.

Social Media Algorithms Are A Failed Experiment

Joan Westenberg
5 min readSep 8, 2023

Refresh, scroll, repeat. We mindlessly consume algorithmically optimized content designed to hijack attention and provoke emotions. Social media algorithms exploit biases and triggers to keep us hooked, undermining authenticity for engagement. While bringing short-term profit, these attention extraction engines warp reality and fracture society over the long run. The solution?

Abandon algorithms completely.

Kill the algorithm.

It’s over.

Algorithms personalize content to maximize watch time, likes, and shares based on our inferred biases and vulnerabilities. It seems harmless at first, but this creates dangerous unintended consequences.

Without algorithms personalizing feeds, social platforms lose their money-minting, engagement-optimizing power. But only by abandoning optimization for usage metrics can the authentic human connection be restored online.

How Algorithms Distort Reality

Algorithms curate our personalized feeds to keep us engaged as long as possible. Content that provokes emotions or validates beliefs is promoted. Complexity and nuance get buried.

This creates dangerous filter bubbles and echo chambers as algorithms feed only perspectives likely to grab our attention. Challenging viewpoints get suppressed, eroding society’s ability to find common ground.

Platforms become alternate realities controlled by engagement-optimizing algorithms. Misinformation spreads easily when aligned with inferred biases. Outrage goes viral by provoking identity-reinforcing anger — without shared facts and perspectives, society fragments.

Even well-intentioned algorithms aiming for “relevance” undermine authenticity by isolating users in personalized bubbles. Content is tailored to confirm biases, not challenge them with serendipity or empathy.

The quest for personalized optimization fractures a cohesive public discourse. With billions of tailored realities, how can society find common ground when algorithms purposely isolate us in tunnels carved to maximize watch time?

Manufacturing Virality

Faced with algorithmic isolation, creators compete in outrage and clickbait for scarce attention. Who can shout loudest by optimizing content to algorithmically manufactured realities?

Manipulating algorithms becomes a skill. Growth hacking, A/B testing, sentiment analysis, tools measuring “shareability” – an industry of snake oil metrics emerge selling algorithm exploitation.

But authenticity erodes as creators shape content to the contours of engagement metrics. Gaming algorithms to provoke emotions trump meaningful discourse. The space for creativity or empathy shrivels when numbers define success.

Even well-meaning creators self-censor to avoid backlash manufactured by algorithmic bubbles optimized for outrage. Public discourse gets reduced to easily reshared sound bites stripped of nuance.

Without shared realities and authentic expression, social cohesion unravels. Polarization manufactured by algorithms fractures society as citizens lose touch with shared truths.

Restoring Shared Realities

The solution is not reform, but abolition of algorithms personalizing our realities altogether. Only by removing personalized filtration can social platforms become true public squares.

This means eliminating filtered feeds and returning to chronological timelines. No more relevance sorting, infinite scroll, recommended posts, related hashtags, or user suggestions – just the temporal sequence of voices contributing to the digital public square.

Chronological transparency helps restore shared truths and experiences fundamental for society. Randomized serendipity places differing perspectives back in dialogue. Provided everyone follows basic rules of discourse, this is the closest manifestation of free speech online.

With chronology, social platforms once again facilitate an open public record. Misinformation is easier to correct when disclosed in transparent linear time for all to examine.

Discussion can get heated, but society emerges healthier when citizens share reality. Authentic discourse thrives when success isn’t defined by beating algorithms, but reaching mutual understanding between humans.

Abandon Usage Metrics

To enable authentic human connection, platforms must abandon business models maximizing watch time, scroll depth, and ad revenue – user attention redefined as fungible data for profit extraction.

This means removing gamified engagement metrics that implicitly push creators to chase algorithms for validation. Usage dashboards with follower counts, view numbers, and vanity metrics must go. They incentivize sensationalism over substance when success is defined by metrics optimized to serve ads, not society.

Platforms should instead emphasize metrics of human enrichment like conversation quality, comment thoughtfulness, and community health. Did an exchange further understanding between different groups? Were perspectives broadened? Did a user find belonging in a community?

The path won’t be easy with shareholders demanding endless growth and data exploitation for profit. But metrics aligned with human needs over business goals remain essential to save the digital public square from fragmentation.

Authentic human progress cannot be measured in clicks, but connections made. View counts cannot capture minds opened. Share numbers miss hearts touched. Only by abandoning algorithms that warp discourse for profit can social platforms enrich humanity.

The Future of Social Media

The stakes are high beyond any one platform’s bottom line. Social media promised to connect humanity – not fracture and isolate it. Algorithms optimized to serve business goals undermine societal ones of authentic understanding between citizens.

After years of chasing engagement highs, escaping the algorithmic arms race won’t be easy. But restoring shared truths and experiences remains essential for society in the digital age.

The solution begins by removing personalized filters that isolate human realities. Only the transparency of chronological timelines can facilitate an authentic public discourse.

Some people (assholes) will always seek to stoke outrage, spread misinformation, and game systems for profit or ideology. But society emerges healthier when citizens share a reality unfiltered by secret algorithms serving hidden business goals.

The dream of an open digital public square persists amid dystopian realities manufactured by algorithms. But collective problems demand collective solutions. More unites than divides humanity – if only we could see beyond borders erected by engagement-optimizing machines.

By abandoning algorithms, social platforms can help restore authentic discourse essential for democracy and society. The reality we need already exists within our common humanity, waiting to be unveiled. Our shared future rests on reclaiming it.

I’m Joan. Transgender. Solopreneur. Tech writer. Founded studio self, a marketing agency, community, & product lab.