The power snare of the algorithm – a “Leech” of digital-era social life

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Devie Rahmawati Lecturer in University of Indonesia’s Vocational Program

IO – Some time ago we were presented with news about the actions of various content creators/YouTubers, from starting to joke or prank or carry out other actions that dragged Indonesia again onto the radar of the world because there was a “representative” on social media who was able to attract the attention of the world’s citizens. The ticket to fame is possible due to several factors, one of which is the power of technology itself through the mechanism of the algorithm (Rahmawati, 2018). 

Algorithms are systems that provide calculations based on the frequency and consistency of content production. The more frequent and consistent the content is, the likelier it is producers will snare responses (likes, thumbs, comments) and a large number of followers (subscribers), which can result in sizeable revenues. 

This attracts many individuals and institutions who are “thirsty” for attention and followers competing to gain as many algorithms as possible. 

However, not all content can be paired with digital algorithm calculations. Why? Because content that succeeded in grabbing the attention of the masses was content that aroused one’s “emotions”: joy, sadness, anger, fear, and discomfort (disgust, and so on). 

If the content contains information that makes people very happy there is an opportunity to attract people to watch or read it. For example, when content or information about the price of a new cellphone is only 10% of the original price. This certainly attracts attention. Likewise, content that contains emotions of sadness, such as infidelity stories, for example, would immediately make people want to read it. 

When content reaps a negative response, why does it seem that the producers (content creator/YouTuber) do not budge and continue to produce such works? The explanation of this phenomenon returns to the snare of the Power of the Algorithm. More and more people are accessing their content, even if it is negative, the algorithm engine will count it as an achievement, which translates to heavy income flow, since the algorithm only focuses on quantity, not on quality. So that many YouTubers that consistently generate negative responses often enjoy abundant income. 

In various examples of academic literature, especially regarding communication, it has been proven that negative news (which arouses anger) will be spread more quickly by word of mouth, compared to positive news. This pattern makes some YouTubers confidently sure of themselves and consistent in the way of “darkness of negative content”, because it successfully builds an algorithmic empire with towering revenue figures. 

However, people often do not understand how fame that has a real impact on the welfare of the digital creative industry is not directly proportional to their happiness. Why is that? Consistency to remain on social media is certainly against the natural ability of humans, who have limitations to interact with many people every day. What distinguishes “stars” in an online universe from stars in the offline world is that fans or observers of the lives of stars in the online world can personally access their idol anytime and anywhere without any restrictions. This will cause psychological and physical fatigue. On social media, loyalty is built through intensity. The higher the intensity we respond to our fans, the greater their potential to stay, which means that income will be guaranteed. 

This algorithmic regime has made some practitioners of the digital world feel not only exhausted but also frustrated, especially when they realize that the entire video has nothing attractive at all. This obsession even leads to death, because some later choose to kill themselves because of stress due to failing to gain fame. 

For this reason, extensive education is needed for anyone to be able to use social media wisely. Social media does promise a lot of positive and productive payoffs; it’s just that it needs to be ascertained the way we use it is also on the right track.