The Big Tech Show: Hooked - behind the algorithms that keep us scrolling

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Adrian Weckler

Falling down a social media rabbit hole is easily done, but how much do we decide and how much are we being influenced by the algorithms of these platforms?

This week on the Big Tech Show, Adrian Weckler is joined by Damien Mulley founder of Mulley communications to discuss how social media companies use algorithms, including advertising.

While the algorithm uses lots of different information from a person’s profile to target ads, accidentally showing interest in a product can mean your social media is plagued with ads that you have no interest in. Damien says, you can find out why you are being served certain kinds of marketing. For him, it was trying to find out why he was getting inundated with ads for log cabins:

"I'm one of these people that looks at the ads and will click on the triple dots next to an ad to see why I'm being targeted. And sometimes, it's just excess inventory. So they push it out to anyone over the age of 25 in Ireland.

The Big Tech Show: Hooked - behind the algorithms that keep us scrolling

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“One of those would have come in one day and I watched a couple of seconds or I might have clicked through [the ad] and all of a sudden it's now attached to my profile; this person is interested in log cabins.”

While some people might think this side of algorithms is harmless or even the preference, what about the potential problems they pose to society or public policy?

“Years back, when this came out first, I was talking about the potential to manipulate the public with the algorithm. If it's skewed a certain way, it can start showing people very specific content. Like a political leaning.

“You don't realise that this is happening and it could be a drip feed thing where you're being shown content, in a way that can numb you to the effect of extreme content over time.

“So it'd be good to see how these things work or there’s transparency around what it is showing you and why there is a decision by the algorithm to show you certain things.

The Big Tech Show is in association with Square.