Lifestream, Pocket, Algorithms in the news–why digital media literacy matters


Much of our work on Code Acts in Education over the past few years has focused on the work that algorithms do (and what they are made to do and by who) in relation to learning, policy and practice. But the work of algorithms extends far beyond education of course.

Ben Williamson

via Pocket

Ben Williamson, while acknowledging the influence of algorithms on his own search results, performed inurl: searches for algorithms within major UK news websites. The short form results (all quoted):

  • The Guardian‘s editorial line is to treat the algorithm as a governor;
  • The Telegraph treats the algorithm as a useful scientist whose expertise is helping society;
  • The Sun is largely disinterested in algorithms in terms of newsworthiness;
  • the editorial line of The Mirror is to treat algorithms in terms of brainy expertise;
  • Algorithms as problem-solvers might be one way of categorizing its [The Daily Mail‘s] editorial line*

*Based on an initial search. An hour later Williamson repeated the search, and received different results. “The Daily Mail is certainly not disinterested in algorithms–the result returns are pretty high compared to the tabloids, and the Mail does frequently re-post scientific content from sources like The Conversation–but by no means does it adopt the kind of critical line found in The Guardian.”

My concerns about algorithms are related to governance, and, I read the Guardian.. Do I read The Guardian because it (more than the other publications given) matches my worldview, or do I think the way I do because of the publications (like The Guardian) that I read? Or, was I initially attracted to The Guardian because of its similarity to my worldview, but now my worldview is influenced by the fact that I read The Guardian, and its initial similarity to my worldview perhaps allows some things to slip beneath the questioning of my ‘truth’ radar?

Fascinating work – makes me wonder, is there a website that presents diverse viewpoints on topics and events using inurl: searches? i.e. monitors news sites, feeding content from diverse sources, organised by topic or event, using humans to add new topics/events as events occur? And with an editorial team to summarise the editorial positions of the publications represented on specific topics? Would such a site help combat political polarisation and divisiveness?

Also.. how can we teach ‘algorithmic literacy’? Can we? When do we start? Would a site which unpacked what this could look like, and offered teaching ideas and a place for discussion be of use? [Assignment ideas..]