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There have been many critiques over the last few years levied against Social Media companies over how they have demonstrably distorted our collective views of reality, catalyzing the spread of Fake News and destabilizing trust in media and journalism. The recommendation algorithms used by most attention extraction companies exploit our subconscious biases and primal desires causing us to inadvertently be drawn to consume more content that aligns with our preconceived biases, and less content that actually challenges us and pushes us towards truth. There have been many fantastic critiques delving into this problem, so we won't rehash those issues in this article. (However, if you don't know what we were talking about, check out either this article, or watching The Social Dilemma before continuing on.)

Both of those above resources do good job of showing the problem that we're faced with, especially as it comes to the way social media and attention extraction companies have distorted our understandings of reality. However, there have been disappointingly few solutions offered in response to these problems, especially solutions that normal people can implement today. While there are indeed systematic and societal shifts are necessary in response to these problems — such as legislation by governments restricting and monitoring attention extraction companies' negative affects on society — there are also things you can do today to pull yourself out of the biased-content vortex that so many of us have found ourselves in, and instead work towards re-establishing a view of reality not distorted by social media recommendation algorithms.

One of the most functional tools to that end is RSS.

RSS is a technology that was invented in the early days of the internet for the sole purpose of making it easy for people to know when a website updates its content. The idea was, if you followed a website's RSS feed, you would be notified every time that website posted new content.

This video is a great overview of RSS and how to use it.

RSS was common across the web for years, before it eventually got pushed out of the public eye when Facebook and Twitter became commonplace. However, RSS is still widely used around the internet, and has several features that are extremely beneficial for us as we explore the idea of disconnecting ourselves from media bias, and recultivating a healthy journalism and media diet.

Here are three especially noteworthy benefits:

  1. RSS is not owned by any company. It is a standard — a language spoken by a majority of websites around the internet, and by any app that chooses to support it.
  2. RSS is free technology. Actually free. You don't need an account to make use of it, it's not monetized by advertisements or companies, and you don't need to pay anything to use it. Some RSS apps have a monthly fee to use, but the underlying technology (as well as dozens of apps for every type of device) is 100% free.
  3. RSS is not "algorithm driven" like social media companies are. If a website you follow with RSS posts new content, it will show up in your RSS reader. It doesn't matter how many "likes" or "shares" it gets, or whether a company thinks you'll like it. You'll see it regardless.

All this together allows us to consume online media in a way that has some valuable features when contrasted with social media. Specifically, when we use RSS instead of services with Attention Extraction monetization, we get a system where:

  • Our subscriptions work for us, not for a company.
  • We are in control of what we see and don't see. Not an algorithm optimized to steal your time and make someone else rich.
  • You can be purposeful and selective about what you follow. How many times have you been sucked into the YouTube rabbit hole for hours on end after meaning to watch just one video?. That is a design feature of YouTube. They want you to waste countless hours on their site; it means they can show you more ads, which will make them more money. In contrast, with RSS, you only get shown content that you specifically subscribe to. No more going into the vortex, unless you specifically choose to.

We are adding more articles in this series where we dive into some specific ways that we use RSS in our day-to-day lives to get the most of the internet, while minimizing the negative impacts of the modern addictive and bias-catalyzing digital landscape. The next article in this series is on using RSS to get low-bias, highly-fact-based news. You can read that one here:

The Internet's Newspaper: Using RSS for Fact-Based, Low-Bias News