Understanding Social Media Recommendation Algorithms

Narayanan, Arvind

Recommendation algorithms mediate online speech and thus shape society. In this essay, I start by explaining the basics of information propagation on social media. Then I turn to the role of recommendation algorithms and engagement optimization—a role that has become more and more prominent over the last decade. I hope to refute the idea that recommendation algorithms are hard to understand because they use sophisticated mathematical techniques and reveal what is truly hard about understanding their societal effects. Finally, I examine the problematic normative assumptions behind today’s recommendation algorithms.


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