The Concern and Alarm of Algorithms Online

A gatekeeper, by common definition, is someone who acts as a locked doorway (or gate) between two different parties – typically between a higher source (like a policymaker) and a lower source (like the public), in order to control how much is and isn’t communicated between the two. In Tufekci’s concept of “algorithmic gatekeeping”, he is referencing the process of there being a non-human (algorithm) designed to act as gatekeeper from over the internet. In this form, the gatekeeper is code developed to either display or withhold certain things (like articles or posts) from an individual’s news feed (in terms of Facebook), for whatever reason. The reason, in this sense that is decided by whoever controls the algorithm, is the agency of that person. The agency is similar to a goal, but in terms of algorithms online it may be better to consider it as an influence on your actions based off of your prior decisions/interactions.

The ideas represented in this article about algorithms online that influence our actions are brought about from a public distress of a Facebook study done to test individuals’ interactions based on algorithmic planning. With this, it is important as a public writer to understand that, depending on the agency of the source and who you are trying to reach, publishing online may or may not reach as many as intended or for the purposes it was intended. A huge piece that stuck out to me from this article was about the concern of using algorithms in political elections, and this being written in 2015 about a 2014 issue is incredible considering it then actually happened in 2016. With the presidential elections in 2016, it was revealed that Donald Trump used a private company in England to help him with Facebook algorithms that would display more positive information about himself or less positive information about his opponent in order to sway more voters.

Thinking about things like algorithms for my campaign pieces, I think, is a little unlikely. The only one that I think would be affected online is the press release that I wrote because this would be distributed online nowadays to reach as many people as possible. Though, I would have less concern with this piece since it is only on a local level, there is still the possibility that it could be filtered away from certain individuals’ attention due to the agency of an algorithm if it were against what some company may be trying to accomplish. Typically, those with the most money would hold the most power to create an algorithm to block or redirect people from certain information. Unless my piece were directly opposing some higher agenda of a well-off organization, it seems unlikely that a piece about an upcoming charity event would be affected.

However, it is of more importance to individuals trying to make a difference with less power in the world, I think. If you don’t have the money, you can’t properly reach everyone you may want to. Because of this, it is the individuals with the most noble concerns (about the environment, health, social justice, etc.) that seem to be filtered out by bigger organizations that would be adversely affected by whatever they may try to warn people about.

One thought on “The Concern and Alarm of Algorithms Online

  1. I never even thought about the point that this author made about how as public writers we need to consider that algorithms may prevent our writing from reaching our targeted audience. This honestly makes me a little “mad at algorithms”. The internet is supposed to be one of the best ways to reach as many people as possible in a short amount of time. Through the internet, everyone has an equal chance to be heard and say what they want to say. Nowadays, that is not true with all the developments being made with algorithms. It almost seems like it is not freedom of speech if someone with more money and power can simply block what you are trying to say to the world without any reason. I always thought that algorithms were harmless and they were just used to link you to things similar to your previous searches and you may find interesting. I did find it a bit concerning that people can see everything that you search or view on the internet, but at least I knew it was happening. I did not on the other hand know that certain things were being blocked from my view in order to sway my opinions and train me to believe something. As messed up as this is, I am not surprised at all. People will go very far to persuade people to believe what they want. Algorithms are not going to just go away so public writers should learn to better understand them and find ways to work around or manipulate them to further help their cause.

Comments are closed.