Imagining Algorithms in Everday Social Media Life: An investigation into the Algorithmic Imaginary within the Elsagate Discussion on Reddit
Tuijl, J. van
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It is important to research media users’ awareness and perception of the increasingly omnipresent algorithms on the social media platforms they use, for those algorithms can have the power to shape social and domestic life by mediating, supplementing, augmenting, monitoring and regulating social interactions. Although a variety of sociologists, communication researchers and media scholars focus on the social construction of technology in general, little research has focussed on the social construction of algorithms, or as media scholar Taina Bucher puts it, the ‘algorithmic imaginary’. By using a currently relevant phenomenon related to algorithms, namely the Elsagate phenomenon occurring on YouTube Kids, I investigate how aware social media users are of algorithms, how the algorithmic imaginary is shaped, and how part of the digital media discourse on algorithms takes shape. My argument is that the changing relationship between Internet users and social media platforms and their algorithms not only caused algorithmic awareness and changing algorithmic imaginaries, but also shifted domestic power structures. Results showed that the Reddit users are only slightly aware of YouTube Kids’ algorithms, but they were actively confronted with questions about their responsibility, agency and power in relation to the usage of algorithmic platforms in domestic life.