The unfulfilled promise of algorithms

No, LinkedIn, I am not interested in the cannabis industry.

Yes, one of my connections passes along cannabis-related articles. Yes, sometimes I interact with this connection. But no, he and I are not interested in the same things.

By the way Instagram, I have never followed a celebrity – any celebrity. I have never liked a celebrity post. I have never, ever, tagged a Hollywood star or famous YouTuber. I have never viewed their profile or left a comment.

Why then, do you insist on showing me famous accounts which you say I “might like,” based on “recent activity?”

Which activity? Certainly not my activity.

Your colleagues at Facebook do something similar. They recommend groups that feature (for instance) Bollywood movie clips in Spanish! Even though I don’t speak Spanish and have never seen any Hindi cinema.

Wait, is this because I watched that reel you showed me automatically, immediately, and without my permission after I watched a friend’s reel? That was in Spanish.

Don’t you realize I tried to exit that video but found the little X in the top corner almost impossible to click?

I appreciate your suggestion that I make friends with every person I ever met (or knew existed) from elementary school until the present day. But I’m afraid many of them won’t remember me, because I didn’t remember them until their faces appeared in my feed.

And my YouTube feed? It was exactly the way I wanted it, full of photography and soccer content, until I watched one political video. That was a mistake. Now I have to scroll past dozens more to find the Premier League highlights I watch in their entirety, every week, all season long.

Yes, the automation logged my engagement, but it made all the wrong assumptions about what that engagement meant. It doesn’t understand I viewed the comment thread like a passing driver views a car accident – instinctively, but regretfully.

And yes, I clicked that popup about your newsletter, but that’s only because it covered the entire screen! I was a frustrated visitor, not a potential new subscriber. The data doesn’t reveal the truth.

The algorithm does not know me. It only makes assumptions. Those assumptions can be profoundly, infuriatingly, consistently wrong.