The Relevance of Algorithms and Calculated Publics

Recently, Tarleton Gillespie wrote an excellent article on “the relevance of algorithms” [PDF]. I presented a summary of his paper at the weekly journal club at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (as you probably know, I am currently a fellow at the institute). For the journal club we are not supposed to discuss our own’s work but to present one interesting publication by other researchers. Below are the slides that summarize the talk and also Tarleton’s paper.

Another summer fellow, Han-Teng Liao, picked up one idea of the paper up and wrote a blogpost about it: Calculated publics? Hazards of meritocracy in promising efficiency and rationalism. What Gillespie argues is that “the algorithmic presentation of publics back to themselves shape a public’s sense of itself”. I found this to be one of the smartest ideas of the paper. Han-Teng argues that the idea is not so new:

“However, I believe the answer to that question does not have to be loaded with computer science vocabularies because at the core of the question is the social construct of meritocracy and its hazards for political experiments broadly defined. […] ‘calculability’ for governance is way before the Internet and computers. The issue of “calculability” in human societies have been associated with modernity, modernity, rationality and bureaucracy in classical sociology.”

Although not calling it calculated publics, I recently recently wrote a book chapter in German on the same matter.