AI Ruined Social Media A Long Time Ago
Seventeen years ago, Facebook launched News Feed. It marked the most important event in the company’s history: a simple product change where users on the platform would start seeing all activity from friends in their network. Powered by AI, this tidal wave of new content came from an algorithm that drastically increased the average time on site. Users hated it, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg stuck to his guns.
A year later, the company released profile pages for businesses and the “Like” button instantly became a direct path to News Feeds all around the world. A faster, cooler way to reach potential customers. More immediate than email and destined to change digital marketing forever. Businesses everywhere begged for new “fans” as it became social currency — a vanity metric that meant everything and nothing at the same time. Grow your fanbase. Grow your feed presence. Grow your sales. Behind the scenes, of course, existed an AI system built by the smartest people in the world with one mission: increase engagement at all costs.
These two milestones, along with the announcement of Facebook Ads in 2007, ultimately enabled the company to become an advertising behemoth and build a targeting machine that had never existed on the Internet. Heavily automated, extremely effective and deeply influenced by AI. A few years later, Google also handed over its search engine to machine learning and quickly introduced AI on YouTube. Fast forward a decade and every major platform has become a cultural force with billions of dollars in revenue to justify their decisions. Social media has become a massive, dynamic collection of content that grows every day and simultaneously entertains, educates and misinforms — it just depends on your algorithm. This is the gift and the curse of AI. After two decades, we can’t even begin to fathom the volume of data that Facebook and Google have to train its systems and keep us hooked.
For better or worse, AI has played a key role in our digital lives since the early 2000s. (Amazon even started using it before the turn of the century.) The progress over the past year, however, is nothing short of miraculous and we have to welcome it with open arms. The worst thing we can do is refuse to understand the…