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Have you heard... about #algorithms?

Have you heard... about #algorithms?

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Have you heard... about #algorithms?


Have you heard about #algorithms? This is the kind of word which, when I first heard about it, wrote it off as being some technical terminology which I neither had the expertise, nor the time to get to grips with.

To some extent, none of that has changed.

When it comes to the magic code that makes the internet and other computers do the type-y, type-y, clever search-y stuff, I’ve made my peace with the fact that it’ll be up to my HTML-fluent grandchildren to explain to me, rolling their eyes as they do so.

I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned in this column series, but I happen to dabble on social media, and therefore I’ve made it my business to find out more about the rules which make my newsfeeds look the way they do. By this I mean, I’ve done a cursory internet search before deciding to write an entire column on the subject (Millennials, am I right?).

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Pictured: Algorithms are why we get certain posts shown to us, and not others, and have ads targeted to our interests.

Simply put, #algorithms are rules pre-programmed by people far more intelligent and patient than me, which computers follow in order to perform the tasks we ask them to do. I’m interested in the #algorithms which govern popular social networking sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. 

These #algorithms are why you get shown certain posts and not others, and they also determine the order in which you see these posts. So how do these clever #algorithms know what I do and don’t want to see?  

The short answer is that they don’t exactly, but they do have access to data about the way you behave on this and other platforms that you might have granted them access to. This way, they know which accounts you interact with most and what kinds of posts you engage with.

As a result, our social media feeds shroud us with similar content to that which we have previously ‘liked’, supported or shared with our own followers. A sure-fire way to stoke engagement and make sure people are still scrolling and clicking in the way these companies want us to? Most definitely.

But does it make us ultimately more naïve to what else is going on in the world outside of our own particular interests, beliefs and political leanings? Without our knowing, these online platforms become perfectly curated echo chambers which, by and large, only offer us exactly the media we want to consume. 

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Pictured: Do algorithms create echo chambers?

As a result, we become lured into a false sense of security about the political landscape, for instance, when all we’re being shown are posts which favour and reinforce our own views.

Of course, no one wants to be bombarded with information which is overly inflammatory or offensive, but surely there is a middle ground where we can all productively and respectfully reflect upon different viewpoints?

Oh, hold on. I almost forgot I was talking about the internet for a second there...never mind.

This article first appeared in Connect Magazine, which you can read HERE

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