Digital Media – Algorithms and have sports fans lost control of their engagement rate?

How Do Social Media Algorithms Work?

Plenty of you might have heard of the term “algorithm” or “storing data” but still be unsure of what it actually means and how it works. Firstly, it is important to mention that algorithms are a recent phenomenon due to the change in media platforms for the past 20 years. Digital media is now part of our everyday life whether it is in the form of interpersonal communication (e.g WhatsApp), information search machines (Google) or social platforms (Instagram), to mention a few. This does not mean that traditional media such as T.V and newspapers have been replaced, but the consumer definitely feels they are being given more choice and even a voice to raise their opinions. However, it has definitely upset the media ecology since digital media have a key advantage over traditional media, and that is the use of algorithms.

Algorithms can be found in most digital platforms and their main use is to identify behaviours and interactions which are then being stored as data. Once the data are collected they are then used to offer a more personalised and customised exploration. Plenty could argue they don’t see a problem with this. However, there are two very straightforward traps in this phonemically advanced experience social media offers.

Firstly, algorithms exists because social media companies need consumer’s attention for as long as possible in order to earn the most and be in control. When everything becomes personalised, users find it harder to live without their electronic devices and the time they spend on them keeps rising. Ultimately, social media manages to build a little world for its users where everything is decided for them, even if they don’t realise this.

Secondly, algorithms store data. Data is one of the most powerful tools in the digital society since they give back plenty of information to the developers of these apps and people in power. Therefore, it helps them see the world as a mass, “from above” and make decisions about how to move forward. Once again, it gives them the power to control users.

Having briefly explained the above, the link between sports is easy to see. New digital media can easily spread misinformation, deepen problems of inequality in sports and assist in creating stereotypes. Athletes can easily become targets as we have seen before in my previous blog post. More than this, it assists in getting users addicted. Through personalised ads about tickets to the next game, online live stream and sports merchandise it is what every sports team invests in. The image they want to represent to users of digital media and a way to gain favourability and earn money. Athletes become social media celebrities and fans follow their every step. Although this may seem as an opportunity for sports fans to engage further with teams, sports and athletes, for example through pre-game livestream followed by the game and then followed by a post-game livestream, twits, posts and instagram stories, it always had me wondering why is there need?

A few years ago, people would go see a match, then talk about it with friends and then maybe see it on the T.V news as well. But lately, these constant bombardment in social media about athletes and their personal lives, games, teams and people feeling the need to know every single detail about all, seems more like an obsession and a sign that digital media and companies have managed to achieve what they always wanted. Make users lose control, so they can be the ones who have it instead.

P.S: For people who enjoy watching rather than reading, the Social Dilemma is an available documentary on Netflix which explains what I briefly touched upon in this blog in regards to algorithms and social media.

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