Blog: Popularity over time, time over popularity?

According to The Verge, chronological feeds have been touted as making a return to Instagram. Could this be the resurrection of a more even-handed approach to our experience of other people’s postings?

Amid the ongoing clamour of entirely valid concerns about victimisation, abuse, and all manner of other negative expressions of human nature, horribly magnified by social media, not to mention their impact upon people’s mental health, this may seem a small thing to focus upon. However, algorithmically produced ‘timelines’ are a fundamentally skewing mediator of many of our online ‘social’ interactions. 

Given that the word ‘social’ covers news, events, arts, opinions, politics, public dis/information, argument, and even academic debate, this represents a micro-, perhaps even macro-, cosmic example of how algorithms and pseudo-AIs affect our understanding of contemporary and even historical culture. 

Aided by algorithm and interface, social media feeds have the capacity to magnify inanities to cultural touchstones, and to diminish titanic achievements to mere echoes in the database. That capacity is founded on a combination of the generation of cultural capital through algorithmically curated visibility, and, contentiously, popularity. Arguably, it is a model that succeeds not by improvement but by exploitation of both subject and audience, and is dependent on the consistent and algorithmically-enhanced visibility of particular posts and topics. 

Could returning to organising things along an axis of time rather than perceived popularity help to improve matters, to soothe the fever of social media discourse even a little? Or, will that simply bind us more tightly to instantaneous updates and our addiction to the never-ending stream?

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