Curse the algorithms

Whatever candidate you voted for, and whatever your opinion on Brexit or other issues, one thing is for sure – social media has played a huge part in influencing people’s vote in the General Election.

In particular, the use of algorithms has had a phenomenal impact, the likes of which academics and commentators will research and write about for many decades.

From when Amazon and Google were founded in the mid 1990s, and ‘the face book’ in the early 2000s, the algorithm has transformed how companies collate, present, and use data – our data.

These ‘big data’ ‘social media’ companies now know so much about us, the people using their services, that we have become the commodity.

They use their insidious algorithms to offer their clients bespoke opportunities for direct access onto our timelines and into our email inboxes – targeting their clients’ adverts and ‘boosting’ their stories directly to each of us, as if personally.

I say ‘our timelines’, but of course, they’re not, we’ve agreed terms to use their services, sometimes even paying a ‘prime’ upgrade to do so. We have created this networking machine, willingly.

Then, like a serpent in the long grass, the algorithms do their thing, for their masters and their paymasters, and many people are quite unaware of the mechanics, or often the impacts. They slither online through our lives and relationships, our workplaces, our leisure, our communities, shedding their grafted skins as they go.

These algorithms stripped the printed news media of the advertising revenue that resourced journalism.

It has been a pattern over the last two decades that the smallest and more local printed news titles have gone bust the quickest.

The long-established news titles that are left have tried many and various means to replace this lost revenue – online digital advertising, and paid subscription models. There has been some success, but the online revenue generated has seldom matched the print revenue lost.

There are fewer journalists in newsrooms, fewer journalists telling communities’ stories, fewer journalists holding powers to account, fewer news photographers throwing light on the spectrum of life’s issues.

Furthermore, the news media’s existential crisis has caused desperate titles to employ ever more dubious tactics to get eye-balls to their online content. Advertisers want adverts to be seen and ‘clicked-through’ to their own websites. News headlines become ‘clickbait’, and news content just words to fill a screen or the background to pop-up ads.

And all the time the data-giants’ algorithms are servicing the dark arts of their masters, and their paymasters, without challenge or regulation.

Curse the algorithms.

Curse those that maintain them.

Especially curse those dark artists that harness the power of the algorithm for their own political gain.

Jerome Whittingham – journalist, photographer, podcaster