Writing for the Algorithms & Hoping it Reaches the Public

Algorithms are computer processes that are used to make decisions. They are described as not providing the “correct” answers, but they yield results that are believed to be the “best.” How can a program, such as Facebook’s algorithm, determine what is best for the millions of users? While yes, it is personalized, it seems that the use of algorithms crosses a line.

In relation to the article, algorithmic gatekeeping is a computer program that determines what information is relevant enough to be promoted to users. Tufekci described the case of Facebook keeping the Ferguson protests under the radar while promoting the Ice Bucket Challenge. In my opinion the algorithmic gatekeeping used in this instance is unjust, for the population should get to determine what current event to publicize, not a computer program.

Tufekci use of agency seems to use the computers as a facilitator between users and the information presented to them. Actually, facilitator may be too mild of a description, for it also manipulates the relationship between the two. This brings us back to algorithms’ purpose of providing the “best” results, but if we are not given any other options, how are we to determine what is truly the best? In addition, these agents work undercover, for if each user has a different experience, it is extremely difficult to pinpoint what each user is seeing and its effects.

In public writing, specifically online, algorithms can be a roadblock. Your publications may not be promoted, even to those who follow or subscribe to you in the first place. To prevent your work from getting buried, you could post to multiple platforms, or to ones that do not use algorithms. For example, posting on Twitter rather than Facebook. On the other hand, algorisms could work in your favor, if you fit the criteria for promotion.

Regarding my own campaign, algorithmic gatekeeping seems inhibiting. I created a Facebook page discussing the opioid epidemic. If I were to promote it, my first plan would to be publicizing it on my personal Facebook page, through wall posts and in various groups I am a part of. I could try and self-promote to my friends, who would hopefully continue promoting, but algorithmic gatekeeping might keep them from even seeing my page to begin with. In addition, the overall goal of my campaign is to make EVERYONE aware of opioid addiction, how prescription opioids contribute to the crisis, and how to help if you or someone you know is addicted. Algorithmic gatekeeping could severely hinder me reaching my entire audience by only promoting my page to those who previous showed interesting in the opioid epidemic. Similar to the anecdote in the article where the teenage girl received Target ads based on what she had been shopping for, I do not want my page to be promoted to only those who had been “shopping” for my topic. While any promotion would help, we want those who know little to nothing about the crisis to become educated more than those who already have a background on the topic.



2 thoughts on “Writing for the Algorithms & Hoping it Reaches the Public

  1. I agree with you that algorithms can be a roadblock in public writing. Due to the computer processes, your publications may not be promoted to those that subscribe to you in the first place which can hinder your campaign. It is accessible to post on other social media platforms; however, I am curious if all platforms would represent the same scenario. With Facebook, it is evident that they utilize algorithms to direct certain media at specific groups. With Instagram, I know they too cater to an individual, where the main feed is dictated by who an individual follows, people that have the most likes, and the photos of a user that individual tends to favor. In addition, advertising is utilized on Instagram, where clothing retail stores market their new and trendy clothes. I myself have experienced it, where clothing stores such as American Eagle and Forever21 post on my feed on a regular basis. My friends too receive the same advertising, so it is apparent they are targeting a specific demographic. I do not have much exposure to Twitter, but I would be curious to know if they have at least some algorithm in place.

    My campaign group is also creating a Facebook page discussing Mental Health on College Campuses. Our campaign is trying to reach out to the University of Pittsburgh students to make them more self-aware of mental health, then potentially we would like to go broader and expose the campaign to other campuses. In terms of broadening the campaign, algorithmic gatekeeping could hinder this goal; it could promote our campaign to crisis networks and specific student organizations but not to all individuals on a campus. It will be our job to find a way to overstep gatekeeping and ensure that the campaign can be seen.

  2. Great questions and thoughts here. Two lines caught my attention as especially provocative:

    “if we are not given any other options, how are we to determine what is truly the best?”

    “I do not want my page to be promoted to only those who had been ‘shopping’ for my topic”

    The first line is a good one. We just don’t know what is best, because we never quite are able to make a decision on what we see. Of course, this is also true with Tufekci’s example of the newspaper…but how might that be different do you think? Is it that we can opt out of one newspaper and start reading another, by sort of knowing the “audience” for one publication and another? Is that option possible for social media? Is Facebook or Instagram or Twitter “different” publications in the same way? Is there another way to look at this?

    The next line is especially tricky. If your goal as a public writer is to reach people who are unaware or just not interested in your topic, is social media a viable avenue to try to reach that audience? I don’t have a good answer here. Is it a matter of shifting who your audience is or shifting your approach in reaching them? Hmm. What do you think?

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