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The Construction of the Right Algorithm: A discussion about algorithmic agency in the Facebook News Feed

Research seminar presented at UOC/Spain: 27th October 2015. http://willianaraujo.org
by

Willian Araújo

on 8 December 2016

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Transcript of The Construction of the Right Algorithm: A discussion about algorithmic agency in the Facebook News Feed

The Construction of the Right Algorithm
A discussion of algorithmic agency in the Facebook News Feed
Willian Fernandes Araújo
UFRGS/Brazil - UOC/IN3 Visiting scholar
Obrigado!
willianfaraujo@gmail.com / www.willianaraujo.org
Personalization
"we can create a web that is more

social
,
personalized
,
smarter
and
semantically aware
"

Presentation of Social Graph, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, 2010
Eli Pariser: The
filter bubble
(2011)
What the Internet is Hiding From You
http://www.tracyparish.ca/2013/10/the-filter-bubble-eli-pariser-devlearn-sketchnote.html
http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/entertainment/popping-the-filter-bubble
https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/clean-facebook-newsfeed-f/pgfaoobojdopojfkgapbkemnlnmppgca
Chris Pinchak
, Software Engineer at Pinterest (2015)
https://engineering.pinterest.com/blog/building-smarter-home-feed
"
The home feed should be a reflection of what each user cares about. [...] To ensure we maintain
fast
,
reliable
and
personalized
home feeds, we built the
smart feed
".
What is relevant for you?
What is relevance?
Personalization
Algorithm
Big Data
Machine Learning
Facebook
"EdgeRank"
Prescriptions on the Facebook News Feed
Morality
In/Visibility
Follow rules
Proximity and interest

Temporality
- Stream
- Now -> Right moment
- Emergent -> Act
three aspects of the same notion
Google
"PageRank"
http://www.dailydot.com/technology/facebook-study-mypersonality/
http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-14306146
http://tecnologia.elpais.com/tecnologia/2015/04/09/actualidad/1428581697_281629.html
http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-your-future-boss-a-computer-algorithm-it-s-closer-than-you-think-20151005-story.html
http://zh.clicrbs.com.br/rs/noticias/proa/noticia/2015/05/algoritmo-ou-escolhas-pessoais-o-que-constroi-as-timelines-do-facebook-4761751.html
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/invasion-of-the-algorithms-the-modern-day-equations-which-can-rule-our-lives-10094518.html
Lack of Autonomy
Future
Prediction
Technological
evolution
Accountability
Auditing Algorithms From the Outside
Personalised Communication
Measuring Personalization of Web Search
"Understanding the use and effects of personalised media and their implications for law and policy"
http://personalised-communication.net/
"we develop a methodology for measuring personalization in Web search results"
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.402.3012
"allows researchers, designers, and users new ways to understand the algorithms that increasingly shape our online life. "
https://auditingalgorithms.wordpress.com/background-readings/
Multidisciplinary approach
"We find ourselves more ready to proclaim the
impact of algorithms
than to say
what they are
. [...] But we should be cognizant of the
multiple meanings of 'algorithm'
as well as the discursive work the term performs."
...but what is an algorithm?
LOL :P
"The technical specialists, the social scientists, and the broader public are
using the word in different ways
."
A classical computational approach
Algorithms Unlocked
https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/algorithms-unlocked
"Algorithms usually express the computational solution in terms of
logical conditions
(knowledge about the problem) and
structures of control
(strategies for solving the problem), leading to the following definition:
algorithms = logic + control
(Kowalski 1979)"
http://www.research.lancs.ac.uk/portal/files/84096709/STHV_final_author_version_introna.pdf
Algorithms, Governance, and Governmentality: On Governing Academic Writing
Lucas D. Introna, 2015
"'What is an algorithm?' A broad answer would be '
a set of steps to accomplish a task
.' You have algorithms that you run in your everyday life. You have an algorithm
to brush your teeth
: open the toothpaste tube, pick up your toothbrush, squeeze toothpaste onto the brush until you have applied enough to the brush, close the tube, put the brush into one quadrant of your mouth, move the brush up and down for N seconds, etc. If you have to commute to a job, you have an algorithm for your commute. And so on."
Thomas H. Cormen , 2013
Computational Algorithm: A model (recipe) for solve a computational problem
"Pinnability is the collective name of
the machine learning models
we developed to help Pinners find the best content in their home feed. It’s part of the technology powered by smart feed, which we introduced last August, and estimates the relevance score of how likely a Pinner will interact with a Pin. With accurate predictions, we prioritize those Pins with high relevance scores and show them at the top of home feed"
http://engineering.pinterest.com/post/114138410669/pinnability-machine-learning-in-the-home-feed
Pinnability: Machine learning in the home feed
Pinterest Engineering Blog, 2015
+ Machine learning = more complex models
Social Science + Media Studies
"There is thus no break between calculation and politics; calculation is just
another way of doing politics
"
http://www.cairn.info/revue-anthropologie-des-connaissances-2014-2-page-a.htm
"Engineering Practices: The Knowledge of Action"
Dominique Vinck, 2014
https://www.academia.edu/12401314/Algorithm_Keyword_
Tarleton Gillespie, 2016 (forthcoming)
Algorithm (Keyword)
Numerical rationality, functions, mechanization: "Algorithm as an Interpretative Key of Modern Rationality"
Paolo Totaro and Domenico Ninno, 2014.

Material performativity, agency and governmentality
Lucas D. Introna, 2015

Software Studies, new media, Digital Media
Andrew Goffey, 2008
David Beer, 2009
Tainá Bucher, 2012
Tarleton Gillespie, 2014

Algorithmic governance and Cognitive Captalism
Matteo Pasquinelli, 2014
Some Aspects of the Concept of Algorithms
- Tangible Agency
"the
pragmatic dimension of programming
. Algorithms do things, and their syntax embodies a command structure to enable this to happen"
Andrew Goffey, 2008
http://dm.ncl.ac.uk/courseblog/files/2010/02/softwarestudies.pdf
- Synecdoche
"
Calling all these
social and technical elements
“the algorithm”
may give us a handle with which to grip we want to closely interrogate; at the same time it can produce a 'mystified abstraction' (Striphas 2012) that, for other research questions, it might be better to demystify".
Tarleton Gillespie, 2016 (forthcoming)
https://www.academia.edu/12401314/Algorithm_Keyword_
- Sociomaterial Assemblage
- Materialize specific composite of time and space
"An algorithm naturalizes who does what to whom by subsuming existing patterns and orderings of cognition, communication and movement".
Adrian Mackenzie, 2006.
http://www.annehelmond.nl/2007/04/11/review-cutting-code-software-and-sociality-by-adrian-mackenzie/

- Black box/Inscrutability
"The level of sophistication of their calculations or their translation into algorithms sometimes transforms them into black boxes (Latour, 1989), which take on the appearance of objectivity and neutrality"
Dominique Vinck, 2014
http://www.cairn.info/revue-anthropologie-des-connaissances-2014-2-page-a.htm
"are produced through the
on-going and situated ‘doing’
by all the actors as part of a socio-material assemblage".
Lucas Introna, 2015
http://www.research.lancs.ac.uk/portal/files/84096709/STHV_final_author_version_introna.pdf

- Computational Reductionism
problems are reduced to what can be expressed algorithmically (and especially, in terms of the technical expertise available to the programmer)
Lucas Introna, 2015
http://www.research.lancs.ac.uk/portal/files/84096709/STHV_final_author_version_introna.pdf
http://social.cs.uiuc.edu/papers/pdfs/paper188.pdf
A Path to Understanding:
the Effects of Algorithm Awareness
"Ethnography for the everyday Internet involves studying the way that people
move through, bring into being, attend to
, and ignore that lands"
http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/ethnography-for-the-internet-9780857855701/
Christine Hine, 2015
Ethnography for the Internet: Embedded, Embodied and Everyday
"Algorithmic systems, with their blend of “technical” and “cultural” concerns, spread across institutional settings in broader social contexts,
are choice objects for ethnographic study
. "
http://static1.squarespace.com/static/55eb004ee4b0518639d59d9b/t/55ece1bfe4b030b2e8302e1e/1441587647177/seaverMiT8.pdf
Nick Seaver, 2014
Knowing algorithms
Adaptative to Internet contexts
A way to grasp massive, networked actions
"
Follow the trajectory
"
Follow the Algorithm
"
Follow the controversies
"
Specific attention to negotiation
Long term study
"Follow disruptive reactions"
Browser Extensions
Kill News Feed
Facebook Mood Manipulator
http://lauren-mccarthy.com/moodmanipulator/
https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/kill-news-feed/hjobfcedfgohjkaieocljfcppjbkglfd?hl=en
"
Follow everyday life
"
- User interviews
- Group dynamics
- Activity on Facebook
Bring the users’ views
Digital
Gatekeeping
“Imagine that you had an intelligent digital assistant which would mediate your interaction with your friends,” he says, “and also with content on Facebook.”
Yann LeCun
Director of Facebook Artificial Intelligence Lab
The Right Algorithm (2013)
(2013)
- 10 years
- More than 1,000 digital sources
https://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook/news-feed-is-a-robot/2242467130
“News Feed may not walk around downtown Palo Alto on awesome hydraulic legs handing out customized stories to people on the street (yet) but
it _is_ a robot
. While we sleep it stays up sifting through the enormous volumes of information about our friends on Facebook and
picks just the best pieces to show us

News Feed is a Robot! (2006)
Presentation and references:
willianaraujo.org/UOC-seminar

How to Approach Algorithmic System Actions Ethnographically?
Theoretical Framework
Agency / Enactment / Prescription / Material Semiotics

Performativity / Governmentality
Perception / Environment / Affordance
Software / Algorithm / Platform / Connectivity
Gatetracking?
Maintain engaged
Encourages a "trackable sociality"
Data production
Content/user categorization
Hypotheses of behavior
News Content
LOLcats
Real name policy
x
Gender identity
"Facebook apaga perfis de trans e drags e revolta usuárias"
http://igay.ig.com.br/2014-07-17/facebook-apaga-perfis-de-trans-e-drag-queens-e-revolta-usuarias.html
Ancestral culture
x
Female nipple ban
"Juca Ferreira quer que Facebook explique censura na Justiça"
http://www.cartacapital.com.br/blogs/midiatico/juca-ferreira-quer-que-facebook-explique-censura-na-justica-2902.html
"How to beat Instagram and Facebook's female nipple ban? Use male nipples instead"
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/feb/21/facebook-nudity-violence-censorship-guidelines
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2015/jul/07/instagram-facebook-female-nipple-ban-use-male-nipples-instead
Qualitative Approach
Ethnographic Analysis Frame
"what algorithms do is not ‘in’ the algorithms as such. This is not to say that the code in the algorithm is irrelevant. Indeed it can be very relevant [...] but that is just one part of the story. It is just one actor in the dance of agency. Perhaps a more significant part of the story is
the manner in which these algorithms
—as part of a sociomaterial assemblage—
condition the performative production of practices and subjects
."
The buzzfeedzation of journalism
How Facebook is wrecking political news
http://kernelmag.dailydot.com/issue-sections/staff-editorials/10580/facebook-trending-topics-journalism/?fb=kr+eg
TED Talks - Eli Pariser: Beware online "filter bubbles"
https://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook/more-beautiful-photos/432670242130
https://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook/making-photo-tagging-easier/467145887130
Face recognition
https://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook/making-photo-tagging-easier/467145887130
Social Graph - Semantic Relations
Share
https://www.facebook.com/FacebookBrasil/photos/pb.123739327653840.-2207520000.1445857191./1010797052281392/?type=3&theater
Gatekeeper
Algorithms
Should we change the metaphors to recognise the production/enactment/shaping of a
trackable sociality
?
Mark Zuckerberg discusses Yelp integration at f8 4/21/10
Full transcript