How do algorithms shape human behavior?


Algorithms considerably shape human behavior by strategically targeting individuals’ attention vulnerabilities to maximize engagement. Johann Hari emphasizes that the power of algorithms is primarily used to determine how to keep users scrolling as much as possible for profit. He illustrates the influence of algorithms with the example of negativity bias, where social media tends to promote content that elicits negative reactions because it's more engaging. This leads to what Hari describes as a society "plugged into an anger machine," exacerbating issues like poor mental health among teenagers and societal divisions 1.

Daniel Kahneman discusses the broader application of algorithms, expressing concerns about their implementation in critical roles like law and healthcare. While algorithms demonstrate superior accuracy in specific tasks, such as bail decisions or diagnosis, societal trust issues arise. People inherently favor human judgment over algorithms, even when the latter proves more reliable, reflecting a fundamental human bias against machine-based decision-making 2. This illustrates how deeply algorithms can impact decisions that shape societal structure and individual lives.

Attention and Outrage

Johann Hari discusses how social media algorithms are designed to keep users scrolling for as long as possible, and how the combination of negativity bias and these algorithms can lead to a society plugged into an anger machine. He also explores how these factors are harming both individual and collective attention.

The Jordan Harbinger Show

707: Johann Hari | Why You Can't Pay Attention—And What to Do About It