Digital Keywords: Algorithm

“What we are really concerned with when we invoke the “algorithmic” here is not the algorithm per se but the insertion of procedure into human knowledge and social experience. What makes something algorithmic is that it is produced by or related to an information system that is committed (functionally and ideologically) to the computational generation of knowledge or decisions.”


More than that, the term offers the corporate owner a powerful talisman to ward off criticism, when companies must justify themselves and their services to their audience, explain away errors and unwanted outcomes, and justify and defend the increasingly significant roles they play in public life. (Gillespie 2014) Information services can point to “the algorithm” as having been responsible for particular results or conclusions, as a way to distance those results from the providers. (Morozov, 2013: 142) The term generates an entity that is somehow separate, the assembly line inside the factory, that can be praised as efficient or blamed for mistakes.


The term “algorithm” is also quite often used as a stand-in for its designer or corporate owner. When a critic says “Facebook’s algorithm” they often mean Facebook and the choices it makes, some of which are made in code. This may be another way of making the earlier point, that the singular term stands for a complex sociotechnical assemblage: Facebook’s algorithm really means “Facebook,” and Facebook really means the people, things, priorities, infrastructures, aims, and discourses that animate them.

(source accessed 8.1.2016)