Gatekeeping and its Concerns

Immediately upon hearing the term, gatekeeping, I formed a mere visualization of the topic. I thought of a “gatekeeper”, whom stood to the side of a gate, and controlled which individuals came in/came out. The gatekeeper could allow individuals in if they met certain criteria (i.e. had a badge) or he was familiar with the face. In comparison, algorithmic gatekeeping is an emerging topic that allows the inflow/outflow of information dictated by computational processes. These processes are based on extensive research about a particular individual/demographic/group. Most of the time, the algorithm is private, therefore it is controlled by the gatekeeping process if people can view the content. This is where Facebook had the pressing issue – where people were upset their personal information was being utilized in extensive research without their consent. However, many social media platforms run on the idea of algorithmic gatekeeping. Instagram has transitioned from the atypical chronological order of material shown, and has recently upgraded to show a user pictures based on the number of likes, who they tend to like, etc. In addition, ads have been added to the mainstream and typically are correlated to the demographic of a user (i.e. I am a female college student who sees ads for Forever21 and American Eagle). Computational agency is derived from algorithmic gatekeeping, which describes the capacity an individual has to make decisions upon algorithms being in place. From the article, it discussed the influence of Facebook on the 2010 election where it “could alter the U.S. electoral turnout by hundreds of thousands of votes, merely by nudging people to vote through…messages.” Facebook used its algorithm to choose a candidate and try to make them appeal to the masses by a strong, potent social message.

Much of an individual’s goal in writing is to appeal to an audience. If your piece is very broad, you want your piece to reach many people and make them consider what you are trying to discuss. However, if you are trying to reach a specific audience, algorithmic gatekeeping can accomplish the task. The gatekeeper can target specific individuals based on a certain demographic/trait and then filter the information to them.

In relation to my group’s campaign, we currently are creating a Facebook page that incorporates various articles, videos, and posts on mental health. Algorithmic gatekeeping could be of use to us, where we could strategize a way to get college students from Pitt to view our ideas on the topic of mental health. Upon receiving enough views and appeal, we could make the campaign broader and reach out to college students as a whole. Although, with all the controversy surrounding the Facebook scandal, we may want to refrain from such an idea. Not only is there a fine line of utilizing personal information, but the question at hand is if it is morally right to take a user’s information without receiving consent. For us on a small scale, it would not be worth it to attempt this idea. For big companies like Amazon and Google, it might be imperative as their goal is to appeal to a consumer and make a sale. I would be curious in the coming year to find how they approached this topic and if they found the happy-medium of the gatekeeping ideology.

2 thoughts on “Gatekeeping and its Concerns

  1. I’m interested in your assertion that in trying to reach a specific audience, algorithmic gatekeeping can work in your favor because it “can target specific individuals based on a certain demographic/trait and then filter the information to them.” I think that your assertion has some merit. If your campaign is striving to talk more openly about mental health on college campuses, algorithmic gatekeeping will be able to help you reach college students on Facebook who have previously shown some kind of interest in posts pertaining to mental health. The college students are your localized demographic, and posts about mental health are something that these students consume regularly enough to be affected by algorithmic gatekeeping. You will reach them easily.

    But I’m also curious as to whether or not you have any concerns about reaching people who may not be included in this algorithm but could still benefit from what you have to offer. I don’t mean people who aren’t on Facebook and won’t be able to see your campaign via that source. I mean people who may have Facebook and may be able to benefit greatly from the resources that you have to offer them, but who have not necessarily expressed enough interest posts pertaining to mental health to be included in the algorithm. Is there a risk in relying solely on algorithmic gatekeeping and not trying to find other avenues to help you get your message out there? I know you’ve said that it wouldn’t be worth it to attempt relying on algorithmic gatekeeping to spread your message, especially in the face of recent scandals regarding privacy on Facebook. But do you think that there are any negatives to algorithmic gatekeeping, especially in regards to whether or not it can help important messages reach everyone that they need to?

  2. How might you “strategize a way to get college students from Pitt to view our ideas on the topic of mental health”?

    There are things you can do as writers in how you write and design your page that would fit the newsfeed environment better or worse (will talk about this in class). There are also things you can do if you pay for services from Facebook on how to target folks (see here: What would make sense most in terms of your campaign? One or the other? Both? How would you carry it all out?

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