The ways in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) affects the content you view on Facebook and Instagram

How AI Influences What You See on Facebook and Instagram

1. Algorithm Basics

Before diving into the specifics of how AI influences what you see on Facebook and Instagram, it’s important to understand some basic aspects about the algorithms these platforms utilize. You might wonder why we’re starting with algorithms. Well, considering that algorithms form the backbone of AI implementations, a good handle on this aspect will really help you comprehend the bigger picture.

You can think of an algorithm as a set of rules or instructions that a computer follows. In the context of social media, these algorithms dictate what content should be displayed to users based on various factors such as their behavior, preferences, and relationships. The ultimate goal here is to facilitate maximum user engagement.

When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), the term refers to computer systems that are able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence. This could involve understanding natural language, recognizing patterns, learning from experience, and making decisions.

Consider Facebook’s News Feed. It doesn’t display posts in chronological order; Instead, its algorithm considers diverse factors such as your relationship with the poster, your past engagement with similar posts, and the type of media included in the post (such as photo, video, or link).

  • You ‘Liked’ and ‘Shared’ a lot of cat videos, so the algorithm pushes more feline-oriented content to your feed.
  • You regularly interact with your brother’s posts, so his content gets priority in your feed.
  • You seldom engage with political news, so those types of posts are deprioritized for you.
  • The types of ads you click on influence the kind of promotional content you see.
  • If most of your interactions are with photo posts, then you’ll see more of the same.
  • Your behavior during past visits – such as how long you spent on the platform and what content you engaged with – also factors in.

2. Personalizing Your Experience

Next, let’s get into how AI personalizes your experience on Facebook and Instagram. Each one of us has a unique social media journey– the platforms recognize this and adapt accordingly. They consider our individual preferences to ensure that the filtered-out content aligns with our expectations.

Through AI and machine learning, these platforms automate this complex process. Machine learning is an application of AI where algorithms are used to parse data, learn from it, and then make predictions or decisions without being explicitly programmed to do so. This continuous learning allows for a dynamic user experience which evolves over time.

Your digital footprint, essentially all the behaviors you exhibit while using the app, influences subsequent content in your feeds. This tailoring is a double-edged sword. While it helps filter out irrelevant content, it can also feed into a “filter bubble”, showing only views and content that align with your preferences.

Take your Instagram Explore Page as a case study. Its purpose is to show you photos and videos from accounts you don’t yet follow.

  • If you’ve been liking and commenting on foodie posts, expect more gourmet burgers and picturesque lattes.
  • Your penchant for beauty vloggers? It’ll give you new faces (with tutorials on perfecting the smokey eye).
  • If travel pics inspire you, you’re going to see more sunsets and landmarks.
  • The sports posts you interact with will lead to similar content.
  • Even if you search for a particular hashtag repeatedly (#MondayMotivation, anyone?), Instagram remembers and accommodates.
  • By assessing your interactions within its bounds, Instagram successfully curates an Explorer page that resonates with your preferences.

3. Boosting Engagement

Now, why do Facebook and Instagram put so much effort into curating what you see on your feeds? The answer is simple: engagement. The longer these platforms can keep you scrolling and interacting, the more success they have in terms of advertising revenue.

Artificial intelligence contributes significantly to the optimization of user attention economy within these platforms. Based on an in-depth understanding of users’ behaviors and preferences via data analysis, AI helps deliver personalized and highly engaging content that keeps users glued to their screens.

In this constantly evolving digital era, achieving sustained user engagement is a challenging task. Social media platforms must stay relevant and appeal to individual users with diverse interests. But remember, it’s not just about ads. They also want you to interact with other features such as groups, events, and stories.

Have you noticed that similar content or adverts seem to follow you around different social media platforms, and sometimes even from one device to another if you use multiple ones?

  • The more you like, comment, share or click on a certain type of content or advert, it continues popping up on your feed and sidebars.
  • Saved or shared items, reactions (angry, love, etc.), hiding posts or adverts – all these actions are monitored.
  • Content from pages you follow or friends you frequently interact with gets top billing.
  • Facebook nudges you to check out stories by placing them right at the top of your timeline.
  • Frequent interaction with Groups will prioritize updates from them.
  • If you’ve used the ‘Marketplace’, Facebook will highlight recent listings for you.

4. Impact of User Feedback

Social media platforms value user feedback immensely. It provides insights that machines alone might fail to catch. Notably, they consider feedback an important factor in improving and refining their algorithms to serve the user better.

Facebook, for instance, frequently incorporates direct user feedback into its strategies. It seeks understanding on whether its systems are taking the right decisions regarding which posts are most informative or should be ranked higher. Volume of engagement is not the only measure – quality matters too!

Instagram’s recommendations aren’t just based on your activities. They value your conscious decisions – the suggestions you say you’re “not interested” in, impacts future recommendations.

Imagine this scenario: You’ve been watching workout videos to stay fit during the lockdown; subsequently, your Instagram feed was filled with fitness-related content.

  • One day, you stumble upon a cooking video from a fitness account.
  • This isn’t really your interest area; hence, you select ‘Not Interested’ on the post options.
  • Slowly, you notice that the cooking videos frequency has started to decrease.
  • Your decision to dismiss that particular type of content impacted Instagram’s algorithm.
  • Instagram used this feedback to fine-tune its understanding of your preferences.
  • As a result, the AI system provides more personalized – and satisfying – content offering for you.

5. Advertisements and Suggestions

Advertisements form a substantial part of your social media experience. Tying back to the theme of personalization, ads are also tailored to resonate with individual users. This effort is aided by the large amounts of data these platforms collect about each user’s habits and interests.

Aside from showing relevant advertisements, social media sites also make use of AI to suggest relevant content, pages, or groups. They try to guess what you might enjoy based on your past activities. These suggested posts often pop up in your feed or the sidebar.

Did you notice how Facebook suggests ‘Pages You May Like’ and ‘Suggested Groups’? Undoubtedly, this isn’t a random selection. These suggestions are based on an analysis of multiple factors such as your likes, shares, internet searches, clicked links, and similar profiles, compiled and processed through AI-driven algorithms.

Coming back to your Instagram Explorer page, haven’t you seen the “Based on photos you liked” tagline?

  • Exercise equipment ads popped up after you engaged with numerous fitness posts.
  • After reacting to vegan recipes, you see ads from vegan restaurants in your area.
  • You’re invited to join local groups related to interests you’ve exhibited.
  • A new band’s music video got into your feed because you follow a similar genre.
  • An ad for the latest book by your favorite author appears, synced with its release date.
  • Promoted posts from influencers in niches you engage with begin to show up.

6. Detecting and Managing Fake News

One of the significant concerns facing social media platforms today is the rampant spread of fake news. Thankfully, AI plays a crucial role in distinguishing the facts from fiction. Algorithms can detect potentially false stories, flag them for review, or limit their distribution.

Content review on a global scale is a herculean task – there’s too much content and too many languages. AI aids in prioritizing what goes to human fact-checkers first. Once flagged as false by fact-checkers, Facebook notably uses AI to identify duplicates of such content.

Instagram uses a similar system to identify potentially false information. Photos and videos reported as incorrect are sent to fact-checkers for review.

Imagine you come across an alarming post that claims a certain food additive causes cancer.

  • You notice that the post is marked with “False Information” overlay.
  • Upon clicking, it takes you to feedback from an independent fact-checker who discredits the claim.
  • The next day, your friend shares a slightly tweaked version of the same post. It, too, has the same False Information warning.
  • This is Facebook’s AI at work, recognizing and tagging iterations of denounced misinformation.
  • Similarly, on Instagram, if users try to share this debunked post in their story, they’ll receive a warning.
  • These methods not only reduce the spread of false content but warn other users about its credibility.

7. Enhancing Accessibility

Artificial Intelligence is not only changing what we see on social media platforms; it’s also altering how we see it. As part of their larger responsibility towards inclusion, Facebook and Instagram are making efforts powered by AI to enhance accessibility for users with visual impairments.

Facebook’s Image Recognition technology can identify elements within an image and create a description or ‘alternative text.’ This text can be read out by screen readers to assist those with visual impairments.

Instagram implemented the same technology in 2018 as “automatic alternative text.” That adorable kitten photo shot can now be audibly enjoyed through concise descriptions generated by AI!

Consider a photo uploaded on Facebook where a group of friends is celebrating a birthday party.

  • Facebook’s AI system generates alt text: “Image may contain: 4 people, smiling, birthday cake.”
  • If someone with a visual impairment uses a screen reader, they’ll hear this description.
  • Instagram also provides an option for manual alt-text to add a richer description of photos.
  • Anyone can use this feature to include more details: “John, Anna and two friends laughing while cutting a chocolate birthday cake.”
  • Such advancements in AI are helping make social media more inclusive and accessible.
  • This might not directly influence what we see on these platforms, but it does enrich how the content is experienced by differently-abled users.

8. Protecting Privacy

While AI helps deliver a tailored experience, it also plays a crucial role in preserving user privacy. Every technological advancement comes with its own set of challenges. In the context of social media, the broad aspect of handling and securing massive amounts of data is critical.

Facebook and Instagram, both practice ‘hashing’ (converting data into a string of characters) for protecting sensitive information. Artificial intelligence helps these sites identify inappropriate content or false accounts and take action accordingly.

As a user, you may have received suggestions to enhance your account security.

  • You receive prompts for enabling two-factor authentication.
  • AI detects and informs you about unrecognized logins from new locations or devices.
  • Your friend reports an impostor account; Facebook’s AI helps spot and remove such fakes.
  • Suspicious links sent through messages are flagged automatically.
  • Tools like ‘Privacy Checkup’ help manage who sees your posts, personal information etc.
  • Constant updates are released to stay one step ahead of potential bad actors trying to compromise system vulnerabilities.

9. Impact On Mental Health

Artificial Intelligence is also being utilized to create safer online spaces. Both Instagram and Facebook have been taking steps to combat cyberbullying and provide support to users who might be dealing with mental health issues.

AI’s pattern recognition abilities help identify instances of bullying or harmful content and take appropriate measures. Facebook has been making efforts in suicide prevention as well by using AI to identify posts or live videos where someone might be expressing thoughts of suicide.

Imagine, an Instagram user shares a post signifying self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

  • The content is flagged by Instagram’s AI system.
  • The person receives supportive messaging that encourages them to talk to friends, contact a helpline, or get other tips and support.
  • If one of your friends flags a problematic post, you see resources to help assist the friend in distress.
  • Proactive detection of such posts is possible before they’re reported.
  • This process uses signals like the text in the post and comments like “are you okay?” or “I’m worried about you.”
  • The aim here isn’t just curating personalized content, but also fostering a supportive community culture.

10. The Future of AI on Social Media

Wrapping up the conversation, it’s interesting to explore what role AI will continue to play in shaping your social media experiences in the future. Given its expansive influence over most aspects of these platforms, the potential is certainly vast!

Improvements in understanding text or ‘natural language processing’ could enable even sharper content personalization. Combating misinformation remains a priority area, especially given broader implications on society. Enhancing accessibility, championing data privacy and fostering online positivity signify key focuses.

Here’s hoping this discussion about AI on Facebook and Instagram brings the invisible curator behind our feeds to focus.

Pictures and posts of sunsets: if that’s what floats your boat, happy scrolling!

  • Expect predictive analytics to drive personalized suggestions before you even search for anything.
  • Social commerce will continue growing; product recommendations driven by AI can enhance this experience exponentially.
  • Enhanced AR capabilities, bolstered by AI, may emulate real-life product experiences (like trying on clothes or makeup).
  • Deepfakes and misinformation will challenge these platforms more; robust AI detection systems will be critical.
  • AI’s role in accessibility can expand towards creating customized navigation, content filtering and interaction functionalities for varied needs.
  • Last but not least, ethical considerations pertaining to AI use and user data management are certain to shape how algorithms are designed and implemented.


Aspect How AI Influences What You See
Algorithm Basics Favors posts based on engagement history with similar posts, type of media, and your relationship with the poster
Personalizing Experience Uses your digital footprint, behavior, and conscious decisions to tailor a dynamic user experience
Boosting Engagement Optimizes user attention economy to improve user retention and ad revenue generation
User Feedback Incorporates direct inputs from users to refine decision-making and improve relevancy of served content
Advertisements and Suggestions Analyzes your preferences to show tailored ads and suggest relevant content or groups
Detecting Fake News Distinguishes facts from fiction, and reduces the spread of false information
Enhancing Accessibility Uses image recognition to help screen-reading tools describe pictures for visually impaired individuals
Protecting Privacy Secures sensitive data and identifies inappropriate content or fake accounts
Mental Health Supports Identifies harmful content, combats cyberbullying, and provides support to users expressing thoughts of self-harm or suicide
The Future of AI on Social Media Predictive analytics, enhanced AR capabilities, combating deepfakes, improving accessibility, and ethical considerations will guide the use of AI in social media