Algorithmic Gatekeeping and Advertising on Facebook

Based on Tufekci’s description, I perceived “algorithmic gatekeeping” as the way some online media sources determine who sees what, when they see it, and how they see it.  When hearing of this term, I immediately thought of my own experiences with these sort of instances.  For example, when looking for flights for an upcoming trip, I explored routes through different airlines in order to find one of reasonable duration and price.  It is important to note that I only searched for this on my computer.  However, when scrolling through Facebook on my phone, I came across multiple advertisements from a certain airline concerning the same trip I was searching for on my laptop.  This could certainly not have been just a coincidence.  Now, whether this is illegal, intrusive data mining, or simply smart marketing strategy is subjective.  This seems somewhat similar to what Target was doing to the father’s daughter in the story told by Tufekci.

Now, although advertising is not the only use of “algorithmic gatekeeping,” it is considerably noteworthy.  I feel as if it could certainly be important when promoting an event online.  On Facebook, a user can “sponsor” an item to show up on people’s news feeds with similar interest, proximity to the creator, or other factors.  In my group’s campaign, creating a sponsored post would be beneficial to promoting our event in which a presentation will be held.  However, it would be important to take into account Tufekci’s term of algorithmic gate in order to determine who exactly the post would reach.  This would be essential in gaining the right attention and crowd for our event.  

Going back to the Target example the author used, it would be necessary to make sure that the event goers were mostly commuters, or simply people that travel across one of Pittsburgh’s three rivers almost every day (as our campaign is concerning the poor structure of Pittsburgh’s bridges).   This would mean that the people that are most likely concerned or affected by the goals of our campaign our getting reached.  It would not be efficient to be advertising to, for example, people who live on the South Side and also work on the South Side.

While some of the factors that determine who see the hypothetical sponsored Facebook post are controllable by the creator, others are out of the hands of the social media users.  Facebook has its own interests, as noted by Tufekci.  Due to the fact that Facebook conducts experiments to determine how it can affect decisions users are making, the post may not reach who we want it to.  The algorithmic gatekeeping could certainly prevent the effective use of social media advertisements to advance our campaign.

Of course, it is, for the most part, impossible to determine what exactly Facebook’s (or any other online entity) actions are in terms of algorithmic gatekeeping.  This would make it difficult to determine whether or not creating something such as a sponsored event would be worthwhile.  However, it is possible to look into tendencies that are indicative of how Facebook has used its algorithms in the past.  While not fully effective, researching this could be practical in deciding how or if to post a certain item online.  

3 thoughts on “Algorithmic Gatekeeping and Advertising on Facebook

  1. I often forget about the internet’s algorithmic gatekeeping and am often alarmed when a similar situation happens to me. I’ll be online shopping on my laptop and later, scrolling through Instagram on my phone, an advertisement to the same store I was browsing on my laptop appears. From the store’s marketing opinion, this would clearly be a strategic tactic, but from a college student who forgets that the entire internet, whether on your phone or laptop, is connected is quite frightening.
    Using a sponsored event through Facebook would be beneficially to my campaign, as well. Tufekci puts a large emphasize on Facebook’s algorithmic gatekeeping as more personalized than that of physical media, such as a newspaper or TV channel. Provided Facebook’s algorithm is correctly targeting those from the Shadyside area, a sponsored event would work in my campaign group’s favor to reach our target audience. Our sponsored Facebook event could be compared to advertisers who “target people specifically, and privately, through their vulnerabilities rather than reaching out to broad categories of people all at once.” Although we are not trying to profit off of said target audience, we are writing in a way that puts emphasis on how combined sewers are directly affecting them and how we need their help to continue our efforts. We are hitting a target audience, those affected by combined sewers, rather than a broad audience, those who are and are not affected by combined sewers.

  2. The kind of Facebook ads you mention are a little frustrating to me. In the earlier days of the internet, content was popularized by a meritocratic system. Unlike TV ads and billboards, it was free to post something online, and whatever you posted would have the same chance of reaching notoriety as anything else. New algorithms on social media have changed that. Even beyond sponsored ads, which you mention, sponsored posts are often shown before other content or more often on social media like Facebook. In order to reach people, it’s more important to pay for a spot, bringing it closer to traditional advertising.
    However, if you have the money for it, then such algorithms and sponsored content can be useful in a campaign, as you say. As long as Facebook doesn’t meddle with the system in order to further its own interests, a campaign that pays to sponsor a post has some control over how many people see specific content, and who those people are. As you say, it’s impossible to determine exactly what the terms of Facebook’s algorithmic gatekeeping are, and it really is grasping the long end of the hammer. Still, in terms of determining effectiveness, we can at least use the fact that many other successful companies have taken advantage of this service as a sign that it’s working for someone.

  3. Similar to you, I also thought of my personal experiences with algorithmic gatekeeping on social media platforms when hearing the term. If I visit certain sites on one of my devices, I often see ads for those same sites on a different device not too long after. Though it’s a common marketing tactic for companies, I find it somewhat off-putting. This is because when I first encountered these ads, I didn’t exactly know what algorithmic gatekeeping was. I really liked how you brought up the point of how important it is to ensure that your potential sponsored post reaches your intended audience. My group could also benefit from creating a sponsored post but it would only be effective if it is reaching our targeted audience. This becomes increasingly difficult, as you mentioned, because the actions of social media platforms, such as Facebook, in terms of algorithmic gatekeeping are hard to determine. Without being able to conclude if the sponsored post would reach our intended audience, it is almost impossible to tell if it would be an effective campaign decision. One way, as you also mentioned, would be to research Facebook’s and other platforms’ uses of algorithms in the past. Would all of this take up too much of the time that could be put forth advancing other aspects of the campaign to make it more effective?

Comments are closed.