If, like me, you’re on Instagram, you’ve probably seen plenty of posts like the following in the last few days.
Instagrammers are scrambling to make sense of what it means when algorithmic timelines replace chronological ones. Time (HA!) will tell, but I think it’s fair to say that it means Our Selfie Overloads will now decide what they think you want to see as opposed to letting you decide. Twitter is on the brink of the same switch, and one wonders if chronological timelines, in general, are going the way of MC Hammer pants.
I’m not sure what to think. On one hand, I love algorithms, especially when I create them myself, as I do in some productivity apps such as IFTTT or Evernote. Even when consuming media, I’m ok with YouTube’s algorithmic video suggestions and am especially in love with Apple Music’s code-created music recommendations. This is not even to mention the brilliance that is the ultimate artificial intelligence (AI) of our time, Google search.
But I’d be horrified if my Apple Music subscription suddenly decided it would exclusively use its AI to play music for me. I’m comfortable with the algorithm because I’m still able to search, create, and manage my own library and playlists. If both Instagram and Twitter are going in a heavily algorithmically-mediated direction, will they take away my ability to manage my own “music”?
As Stacey Higginbotham reminds us, algorithms may be inherently hegemonic (please read Audrey Watters’ “Identity, Power, and Education’s Algorithms” for more):
An imposed algorithm has the potential to reinforce content that is comfortable and commercial. Good for advertising not democracy
— Stacey Higginbotham (@gigastacey) February 6, 2016
Regardless, as an educator of literacy, it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that an exploration of digital algorithms needs to be integrated into this thing we call media literacy. Look at the Ontario curriculum, for instance:
How can we deconstruct or construct media texts in 2016 without contemplating the role that social media and its various algorithms play?