HYPER/TEXT: Algorithm Anxiety

Image by carloyuen from Pixabay

Algorithm Anxiety asks:

I feel like I’m going bonkers over here, so I’d love an outside perspective! 

I have a pretty normal social media presence, and over the years, I’ve noticed only slight changes in the content that is recommended to me. But TikTok. Has. Got. Me. DOWN! It knows everything about me, including things I swear I didn’t make public anywhere else. It’s been SO accurate to my interests that when I started getting content about women and girls with autism, I felt confused. As far as I know, I’m not autistic, but the more I learn about it… maybe I am? How else would it come up on my FYP? How do I know when it’s time to log out and call a doctor? Help!

Algorithm Anxiety, I’m loath to begin on a low note, but here’s the unfortunate truth: your information doesn’t need to be public for social media platforms to access it. For example, Facebook Messenger tracks users’ keystrokes to curate advertisements on their primary feeds, and Google keeps extensive tabs on the people you love, the places you frequent, and just about every purchase you’ll ever make. Your data is being bought, sold, and traded to countless corporate entities every second you remain online. The best time to log out was years ago, and the second-best time is right now.

Putting that aside, TikTok’s algorithm is programmed to keep its users as engaged as possible to maximize the amount of ads they encounter during their stay. As such, the recent shift in your watch recommendations reflects one of two things:

  1. Your TikTok feed and Internet history resemble those of self-identified autistic women.
  2. TikTok’s algorithm has identified “autism” as a topic that keeps users like you engaged with the app. 

Now, does any of this mean you are or are not autistic? It’s impossible to say for sure. “Autism” includes a wide range of traits and behaviors, and how they manifest varies from person to person. Ergo, clinicians’ opinions may also vary based upon how they expect autistic people to behave. 

Before you shatter your computer screen and schedule an official evaluation, I recommend asking yourself the following questions:

  • What do you hope to gain from an official autism diagnosis?
  • Would you feel more reassured or disappointed if you received an official autism diagnosis? 
  • Would you feel more reassured or disappointed if you were denied an official autism diagnosis?
  • Do you foresee an autism diagnosis changing how you feel about yourself in the long-term? Are these feelings positive or negative?

Regardless of which conclusions you reach, I hope you find clarity far beyond what TikTok can provide.

HYPER/TEXT is a queer advice column for the digital age: a space for subcultural dilemmas that leave offline friends scratching their heads. Should you block your best friend over lesbian discourse? What on Earth is a “kinnie?” Check in biweekly for answers to these questions and more as we explore the lives of the hyper-online!

Got questions? Submit HERE or via hypertextterse@gmail.com.

Fox Auslander is a nonbinary poet born, raised, and based in Philadelphia. They are one of three co-lead poetry editors at Alien Magazine and one of two co-editors at Delicate Friend. Find them on Twitter @circumgender.

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