In my opinion, algorithmic filtering can both help and hinder social movements. On one hand, filtering can help movements or hashtags trend. The more they are mentioned on a site, the more likely they are to trend. But I think filtering can hinder them, too, in the sense that they can be filtered out or “hidden” by other trending topics. Who has the control? Is it really just a computer algorithm deciding which topics trend, or is there a team at Twitter and Facebook that monitors this and can accept or reject trending topics?
Who knows… Maybe or maybe not. We’d all like to think that the above is not the case, but how much do we really know about the policies of our favorite social networking sites?
So filtering can be good and bad. It can help topics trend which allows more people to be aware of them. But it can potentially prevent certain topics from trending. And it can prevent certain topics from trending nationally, confining them to local areas, as was the case in Ferguson (per the #Ferguson article).
I think this says something interesting about who has the power on social media. We like to think that the public has the power. Anyone can have access to social media. People can say whatever they want. People are in control of their own destinies on social media. They see what they want to see… Right?
It seems that algorithmic filtering shifts the power away from the public and into the hands of the people who own/run the social media platforms. Which is a certain minority of people, probably upper class. So now the fate of the social movements are in the hands of powerful people, whose interests might not be best served by what the movement is about. Do we trust those people, and algorithmic filtering, to remain unbiased an impartial? I think we would like to hope so, but it might not always be the case.
So I think that algorithmic filtering could be considered a type of censorship. Topics and discussions of social movements can be confined through filtering. Some topics could be pushed to the front and others could be buried. It all goes back to what those in control want broadcasted. Offline, keep the reporters away from the protests so they can’t write anything. Online, prevent people from knowing what is going on using algorithmic filtering.
Now I know this is a very pessimistic portrayal of algorithmic filtering. It has done good for trends and movements and I do think that, for the most part, social media sites aren’t diabolical in their use of algorithmic filtering. But the danger is that they could be and definitely have the power to be.