Algorithms: What are they and what do you keep in mind?

Just what are algorithms, how are they used, and what happens when influential algorithms go wrong?

In a 2012 Limn article , Cornell University researcher Tarleton Gillespie explores the controversy over Twitter Trends and the “algorithmic ‘censorship’ of #occupywallstreet.”

As Gillespie explains, Twitter Trends is a simple list of 10 terms provided by Twitter on its homepage.

The algorithm behind Trends digests the 250 million tweets every day and indexes the most vigorously discussed terms, either globally or for a user’s chosen country or city.

Even in cities where protests were occurring and tweets spiked, the term didn’t trend.” This omission led some to suggest that Twitter was deliberately dropping the term from its Trending list.

These providers offer complex algorithms to manage, curate, and organize these massive networks. But there is a tension between what we understand these algorithms to be, what we need them to be, and what they in fact are.