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CANCELLED: Florian Saurwein & Charlotte Spencer-Smith: Automated trouble: The role of algorithmic selection in the emergence of harms on social media

March 11, 2020 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

Algorithms have taken a central role in the automation of an increasing range of tasks in economy and society and their workings are keenly felt in everyday life on social media platforms. Algorithms filter and rank content on feeds and in search results, enforce content moderation rules, advertising policies and community standards, and enable personalized and targeted advertising. However, they also play a role in promoting a range of online harms to the individual, society and democracy, including the amplification of disinformation and hate speech, the development of filter bubbles, lack of transparency in online political microtargeting, and restrictions on free speech through automated deletion of posts by content moderation algorithms.

In this talk, Florian Saurwein and Charlotte Spencer-Smith explore the link between algorithms and harms on major social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They examine how algorithmic selection contributes to harms within social media environments and develop a taxonomy of algorithmic risk. Subsequently, they identify measures of self-regulation taken by social media platforms to manage these risks, to see which tools are available for combating problems, and for which kinds of risks they are used. Results of the combined risk—regulation analysis allow for reflections on the governance implications of the different roles that algorithms play in risks on social media. While algorithmic errors may be fixed by social media companies themselves, the risks of growing power asymmetries call for external control and regulation. The results also point to implications for accountability, in particular that future governance arrangements should recognise algorithmic risk as emerging from the interplay of multiple actors who may be called to account.

The talk is based on results of the research project “The automation of the social: Algorithmic selection on social online networks” which is funded by the Vienna Anniversary Fund for the Austrian Academy of Sciences.



Florian Saurwein is Senior Scientist at the Institute for Comparative Media and Communication Studies (CMC) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Klagenfurt, were he established the research area “Triple A: Automation, Algorithms & Accountability” that explores the social implications of the growing influence of algorithms.

Charlotte Spencer-Smith is a Prae Doc at the Center for Information and Communication Technologies & Society in Communication Studies at the University of Salzburg. Previously, she worked as a Project Assistant in the research area “Triple A: Automation, Algorithms & Accountability” at the Institute for Comparative Media and Communication Studies (CMC) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Klagenfurt.


March 11, 2020
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm