Social media platforms from TikTok to Twitter charge you nothing to use their services, except for, well, everything there is to know about you. Part of the strategy in that data collection comes from algorithms, which decide what kind of content to show you based on your past usage. Don’t make their data harvesting any easier for them — skirt the algorithms whenever you can.
Social media algorithms are ever-changing things. They analyse your information and serve you content it thinks you’ll want to see. How you interact with that content teaches the algorithm, and it’ll change the suggestions it gives you down the road. Because of this, algorithms are great at keeping you engaged with the app or service for long periods of time, but they also help social media companies build better profiles of your interests.
Sure, companies build profiles of their users from the information voluntarily provided; they collect the accounts you follow, the information you post to their services, the locations you share, etc. But what better way to figure out who you really are than to serve you custom content, and see how you interact with it. I don’t know about you, but I’m a little sick of training these algorithms to know exactly who I am and what I like. To me, it’s worth fighting back where I can. Here are a few places to start:
Don’t confirm the algorithm’s assumptions
These days, it’s common for social media platforms to suggest content to you, rather than have you find the things you like yourself. When you open YouTube, for example, the entire page is littered with suggestions, based on your past watch history. That can be helpful, but it can also keep you on the site much longer than you originally intended. After all, there’s always something else to watch.
It’s not just watch time that concerns these platforms, of course; when you click on a suggested video on YouTube, or interact with a post in Instagram’s Explore page, you’re affirming the algorithm’s assumptions about you. It takes that data and strengthens its profile on you. While social media tracks your every move already, any move you make on a piece of suggested content will only weigh even more heavily than usual.
My advice? Avoid interacting with this suggested content whenever possible. Instead, search out the content you want to see. If you find something interesting in suggestions, search for it manually and watch it from there. The algorithm will still learn from your behaviour, but you won’t be training it like you would if you take its suggestions.
Eliminate suggested feeds when possible
That leads us to our next subject. If you can, change your feeds to sort chronologically, rather than by what the service thinks is most interesting for you. It’s the same logic as before — don’t train the platform’s algorithm anymore than you have to. By viewing and engaging with content as it comes in, the platform won’t have as many tools to figure out what you’re interested in, and, therefore, will have less to add to your general profile.
Not all social media platforms offer this type of feed, of course. TikTok is famous for serving you content based on the algorithm. Even still, you could attempt to only watch content from the “Following” tab, which would show you videos only from accounts you follow. It’s still not perfect, since even that sorting is done by TikTok’s algorithm, but it puts a bit more of the control in your hands.
Facebook and Twitter both let you sort by recent posts, rather than the algorithmically curated “Home” feed. Instagram might not have a chronological feed at the moment, but it’s coming. When it does, switch to it, rather than relying on Meta to pick and choose which of your followers’ posts you should see first.
Use platforms without your account when possible
This is another piece of advice that is contingent on the way the platform operates. When possible, don’t let the social media network in question know it’s you using their services. The first one that comes to mind for me is YouTube; if you don’t care about watch history, you could view all the content you want in a signed-out incognito tab, and YouTube would have no way to connect that activity to your Google Account.
You can easily browse Reddit without an account as well; the downsides here are losing your ability to comment and vote on posts, and not having an account with personalised subscriptions. But if you know what communities you want to check out already, or you’re good with Reddit’s defaults, browsing signed-out works just fine.
This solution is also a good one when you don’t want to train the algorithm with content you don’t like, namely, when a friend sends you videos or posts they find funny. Click enough of these, and all of a sudden, your TikTok feed is full of their humour and interests; no thanks.
In some cases, using these services without an account is impossible because many social media platforms require you to log in. Facebook and Twitter are almost unusable without an account, and Instagram gives you an annoying sign-in pop-up after looking at more than a couple posts while logged out.
A better solution for these situations might be:
Use a burner account
Using a “fake” account, with none of your real information, is a great way to reap the benefits of these platforms without having to worry about their parent companies building an accurate profile of yourself. Sure, you know these companies are still stalking everything you do on their platforms, but if you don’t give them essentials like your name, email, date of birth, etc., it’s much harder for them to know who you really are.
Burners are great for sites like TikTok, Reddit, Instagram, and Twitter, you just lose out on the more social aspects of social media. If you can live with that, burner accounts can keep you entertained without being as tracked.