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Monday, September 26, 2022

How to Perform a Feeds Reboot to Take Back Control of Your Algorithms

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For the past few years, I’ve chosen one weekend day a year to do what I’ve come to call a Feeds Reboot. I systematically try to go through every subscription, every follow, every algorithmically or chronologically generated thing I see on social platforms, streaming services and news apps and reset or at least overhaul the way it works. I cannot recommend this enough.

Every time I do a Feeds Reboot, I notice a huge increase in how interesting and relevant I suddenly find the internet. Will it then spend the next 364 days slowly degrading into a swamp from which I will try to free myself next year? Yes! But I’m still making progress.

The purpose of a Feeds Reboot is to use the internet more consciously. It’s not the same as a privacy audit, which is also a good thing to do every year; rather, it’s a way to change what you see online. Chances are, some of what’s in your feeds — the creators on YouTube, the old friends on Facebook, the inescapable dance craze on your TikTok For You page — is the result of something you’ve commented on, liked. or whatever happened to you. look many months or years ago. The reboot gives you the chance to start over, declare to the internet that you are no longer the person you once were, and take more control over the algorithms that rule such a large part of your life.

My process has gotten more complicated over time and now involves three steps: the next audit, the mass archive, and a more complicated step that I’ve come to call the Feeds Reboot Pro Max.

The next audit is tedious but very simple: just review everything you follow everywhere. Go through your next list on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram, see all the sources you follow on RSS, check all your Discord memberships, see all the newsletters you receive, browse your podcast subscriptions, and check all the bands you follow on Spotify to make sure you still care. Don’t worry about adding better stuff as it will happen on its own over time. Just delete everything you don’t want, and make sure you’re only signed up for things you really care about.

The next step is the Mass Archive, which is exactly what it sounds like. Have a million emails in your inbox? Got a read later app packed with stuff you haven’t gotten around to yet? How many unwatched Snaps do you have in your list? There is only one way to move forward: to get rid of everything. You can delete everything if you’re feeling chaotic or just create a folder called “Archive” and dump everything into it. That way it will all still be there when you need it… but you don’t. That’s the point.

If you just do those two things, you will notice almost immediately that your online life feels more relevant and less overloaded. The first time is always the longest since you have a lifetime of food choices to look at; after that every year goes much faster.

The Feeds Reboot Pro Max is the next step to take control of your algorithms. It involves exploring how different social algorithms already understand what you like and care about and adjusting them where possible.

Not every app lets you do this — TikTok doesn’t give you any control at all over what you see, for example. But some apps do offer more granular control over the algorithm. I’ve included the steps for their mobile apps, although sometimes you can get the same information in a browser. (And with YouTube and Facebook in particular, it’s much easier to do some bulk actions on a laptop.) Here they are, in no particular order:

YouTube

  • go to you Library tab, then select View all above your viewing history. Scroll back through everything you’ve viewed, press the three-dot button on the right and select Remove from watch history to take it out of your recommendation pool as well.
  • Or go nuclear: go to Settingsthen History & Privacyand just click Clear watch history to wipe the whole thing and start over.
  • You can also click Manage all activities and tell YouTube (and other Google services) to delete all your activity after a certain period of time. I’ve set mine to 18 months, but you can also choose three months or three years of data for Google to track.

You can manage the data that YouTube stores about you or delete it afterwards.
Image: YouTube/David Pierce

Instagram

  • Go to Settingsthen Adsand then Advertising Topics to see a list of all the categories advertisers can use to reach you. If you see one you don’t want, tap it and select see less
  • Go to your profile, tap Next in the top right corner and tap the Least interaction with category. Unfollow anything you don’t want there anymore.

facebook

  • Go to Settings & privacy > Settings and select Your time on Facebook† Touch See Settings below Get more out of your timeand then tap News Feed Preferences, and you can add or remove people from your favorites and unfollow lists to control how often they appear in your feed. (Unfollowing people without unfriending them remains an underrated tactic on Facebook.)
  • Go to Settings & privacy > SettingsSearch rightsand select Advertising Preferences† Select Advertising Topics at the top of the page, and you can see and edit all the topics Facebook tells advertisers you’re up to. (This list mirrors the one on Instagram, by the way, so you’ll only need to edit it in one place.)

Facebook offers more control over content than most — and some of it applies to Instagram, too.
Image: Facebook/David Pierce

Twitter

  • Go to Settings > Privacy & Securityselect Content you see, and review both the topics and interests that Twitter has for you. Unfollow the ones you no longer want, and subscribe to the suggested topics that sound the most interesting.

LinkedIn

  • Go to Settings & Privacy > Advertising Dataand then select Interest categories† You get to see everything LinkedIn thinks you care about and you can turn off everything you don’t care about.

Streaming services

  • Most streaming services have a feature — usually under a phrase like “Watch History” or in the menu where you manage your Continue Watching section — that lets you control what the service uses to inform your recommendations. I would do this more than once a year for all your services.
  • In Netflix, for example, it only works on the internet: go to your . under your profile picture account, find your profile picture in Profile and Parental Controlsand then select View activity† Click on the Hide icon next to anything you’d rather not see in your watch history or inform your future recommendations.

Some people I’ve talked to over the years recommend a more scorched earth version of a Feeds Reboot. They say you should unfollow everyone everywhere once in a while and rebuild all your feeds naturally. That seems exaggerated to me, but the goal is the same. Modern life is run by feeds and algorithms, and if you don’t take care of your inputs, you will eventually hate the output.

The real responsibility here should be on the platforms themselves to make this process easier and more transparent – to tell you more about what they know and let you change it. Facebook is probably the model here: much of its information is buried deep in settings menus, but you can see and edit everything from your search history to a detailed list of everything the platform thinks you care about.

Until then, there’s the Feeds Reboot. It’s an excellent weekend project for a long weekend like this.

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