Escaping the algorithms

2022-07-28

Algorithms are ever-present on the modern social media landscape and there seems almost no escape from them! Or is there?

The basic premise

Everyone nowadays knows that algorithms dictate every piece of content landing on our 10 different social media feeds. And everyone knows that these are engineered to show you stuff that will keep you interacting on the platform. More interaction means more data collected and more people seeing ads. The stuff that keeps you interacting is not always what's good for you or what you actually want to see. The algorithm knows you don't want to see today's bad take of the day™.
But it knows it's what makes you interact. A nice and non-offensive post might get a like from you, but a really bad take will maybe get a response. And that response might even turn into an argument. Those are all interactions, data and views. Anger is a strong emotions and the designers of these algorithms know this!

They are designed to keep you on the site like a prisoner. YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, Reddit. All of them use it. So how do you avoid it?

The answer is both simple and not. The easiest solution would of course be to not use these platforms. Because the algorithm can't do its magic without you ever seeing its output. But we know that many people use these platforms to keep up with their friends, favorite artists or communities. And just abandoning them isn't really an option then.

So that brings us to... some solutions!!

YouTube

YouTube is actually the easiest one to get the content from your favorite youtubers in a way that's not dictated by the algorithm! Every channel actually has an RSS/Atom feed you can subscribe to which will give you their latest videos!

All you need is a feed reader, which there's plenty of choices for for desktop, web and mobile. If your reader supports feed discovery you just need to point it at the channel you want to subscribe to and it'll find the feed URL for you! Alternatively you can use this URL and put in the ID of the channel you'd like to subscribe to!

https://www.youtube.com/feeds/videos.xml?channel_id=CHANNEL_ID

Alternative frontend Invidious

Another option is called Invidious! Invidious is a frontend for YouTube that supports subscriptions and playlists like YouTube does, but doesn't require you to make an account on YouTube! You will need to either use an instance that someone else hosts (There's a list on the Invidious website) or host it yourself.

Twitter

While Twitter itself doesn't support the creation of RSS feeds from accounts, there are third-party sites that can do that!

The most widely used alternative frontend for Twitter is Nitter. (Which lets you do RSS feeds!) It allows you to view individual accounts' feeds but doesn't support an account system as of writing this. Meaning it doesn't have a front-page with the tweets of the people you follow, but that's a planned feature! It doesn't let you see your friends' private accounts' tweets either. But if you don't use it that much and just keep up with a few accounts, using it to make some RSS feeds to subscribe to is defo a viable option!
Of course like Invidious, you'll either need to use a public instance or self-host one.

If you follow your friend-group on Twitter and want to keep up with them, for now the best solution for now would be to turn the feed to "Latest Tweets" instead of "Home" and remove the trending tags on the side via your ad-blocker.
The easiest way to do this would be with this user-script in your browser: https://github.com/insin/tweak-new-twitter

Conclusion

In most cases there tends to be a cost of features or usability you pay for escaping the clutches of the algorithm. No solution is perfect, but in the end we think it's still worthwile to attempt because after using YouTube without the elements that bother us we already feel way better about our internet-usage!
After a while the difference becomes like day and night!

The platforms themselves will of course not stop using their algorithms and tweaking them to make users stay on their sites more. They're simply too big and powerful. If you and your friends switch to another platform it won't really make a difference for YouTube or Twitter but it will defo make a difference for you and your friends!

The best solution long-term is we believe still getting away from the big social media sites and corporations and back to individual communities spread over the web. A web for people and not corporations.