Taina Bucher on algorithmic power, politics and sociality
Many people think of algorithms as purely 'technical'. However, according to Dr. Taina Bucher from the University of Oslo, we should understand algorithms as much more than merely code and math. In If... Then: Algorithmic Power and Politics, she demonstrates how algorithms are part of larger socio-technical arrangements and events, just like the humans that design these algorithms and interact with them. As arrangements — and in these arrangements —, algorithms help to construct reality, for instance by deciding which Facebook posts are important enough to be shown on the top of the Facebook newsfeed. In this sense, algorithms are political, and have the power to decide what becomes visible and what remains unseen.
Though most of the ‘ordinary people’ are unable to explain how particular algorithms work, Bucher observed that social media users often do have some understanding of the algorithms that drive the platforms they use. They, for instance, have the ability to consider which types of posts will have specific desired effects; a skill Bucher describes as part of “the algorithmic imaginary”. Other types of thought processes and conversation occur in the field of journalism, where the influence of algorithms has given rise to discussions about, for instance, editorial responsibility and questions about the objectivity and subjectivity of algorithms versus human editors.