State University of New York Institute of Technology
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How Do Algorithms Affect American Media

Twitter allows people to blog and others to follow a user and everything they post. Twitter also has a ‘trending now’ feature that let users follow whatever is most current, not just someone in particular. So if everyone is talking about occupy Wall Street events or Alec Baldwin posts, then that is trending now. But if they have been talking about it for a week or two, these things don’t show up. This is due to the algorithm Twitter uses to sort millions of ‘tweets’ a day. The program determines what is trending now in the last day or few hours, not over a large time span like days or weeks.

This means that the algorithm determines what is important and what is broadcasted on the ‘trending’ list. Amazon also has its own algorithm to supply their best sellers list. But not all best sellers go on the list. If someone classifies a book as ‘adult content’ then it never makes it to the list. Google has its own algorithms in order to determine which results come up first and which come up on the 74,000th page, and what doesn’t show up at all.

Does this mean that the computer program is bias? Is there a flaw in the system? I don’t think so, I think people are bias and people make tools like algorithms to sort data. This is not a sign of artificial intelligence or anything but we should be aware of what is chosen as important to read and how it is selected.

Reference: NPR.org / How Twitter's Trending Algorithm Picks Its Topics, December 7, 2011

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