Algorithms: The Siren Song of Objective Information

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January 2012
by Tarleton Gillespie

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As more and more of our online public discourse takes place on a select set of private content platforms and communication networks, and as these platforms and networks turn to complex algorithms to manage, curate, and organize their massive collections, an important tension is emerging between what we expect these algorithms to be and what in fact they are.

Not only must we recognize that these algorithms are not neutral, that they encode political choices, and that they frame information in a particular way. We must also understand the consequences of coming to rely on the algorithms and of wanting them to be neutral, reliable, effective ways for us to come to know what is most important.

Every search engine, whether Google, Bing or the search bar on your favorite content site (often the same engine, under the hood), is an algorithm that promises to provide a logical set of results in response to a query.

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