On Algorithmic Politicking

Mother Jones: Facebook Wants You to Vote on Tuesday. Here’s How It Messed With Your Feed in 2012 (October 2014)

There may be another reason for Facebook’s lack of transparency regarding its voting promotion experiments: politics. Facebook officials likely do not want Republicans on Capitol Hill to realize that their voter megaphone isn’t a neutral get-out-the-vote mechanism. It’s not that Facebook uses this tool to remind only users who identify themselves as Democrats to vote—though the company certainly has the technical means to do so. But the Facebook user base tilts Democratic. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, women are 10 points more likely to use this social network than men; young people are almost twice as likely to be on Facebook than those older than 65; and urbanites are slightly more likely to turn to Facebook than folks in rural areas. If the voter megaphone was applied even-handedly across Facebook’s adult American user population in 2012, it probably pushed more Obama supporters than Romney backers toward the voting booth.


The New Republic: Facebook Could Decide an Election Without Anyone Ever Finding Out, Jonathan Zittrain (June 2014)

Digital gerrymandering occurs when a site instead distributes information in a manner that serves its own ideological agenda. This is possible on any service that personalizes what users see or the order in which they see it, and it’s increasingly easy to effect.

There are plenty of reasons to regard digital gerrymandering as such a toxic exercise that no right-thinking company would attempt it. But none of these businesses actually promises neutrality in its proprietary algorithms, whatever that would mean in practical terms. And they have already shown themselves willing to leverage their awesome platforms to attempt to influence policy.


MediumWhat happens to #Ferguson affects Ferguson, Zeynap Tufekci (August 2014)

Ferguson is about many things, starting first with race and policing in America.


But it’s also about internet, net neutrality and algorithmic filtering.


It’s a clear example of why “saving the Internet”, as it often phrased, is not an abstract issue of concern only to nerds, Silicon Valley bosses, and few NGOs. It’s why “algorithmic filtering” is not a vague concern.


It’s a clear example why net neutrality is a human rights issue; a free speech issue; and an issue of the voiceless being heard, on their own terms.


How the internet is run, governed and filtered is a human rights issue.

BONUS! When I logged in to post this, WordPress let me know that it, too, is getting into the business of voter recruitment, with the likes of Google and Pew. They invited me to share (and embed!) tools and links to the Voter Information Project — like this! Go ahead, take a look, and (as always) ignore the wise advice and read the comments.

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