Social media platforms have become some of our most important sources of news. What information gets seen by whom is shaped by tightly guarded algorithms that tech companies have spent billions of dollars to develop. People on all sides of the political spectrum have voiced concerns over the impact those algorithms have in terms of promoting divisions, misinformation and hate speech, among other things. Elon Musk, who has proposed a $44 billion takeover of Twitter Inc., has vowed to make its algorithms “open-source” to promote transparency and free speech. It’s not entirely clear what he has in mind, or what the consequences might be.
A set of instructions for making a decision or performing a task. Arranging names in alphabetical order is a kind of algorithm; so is a recipe for making chocolate chip cookies. But those simple formulas bear only a distant relationship to the computerized code used by social media giants like Twitter, Facebook parent company Meta Platforms Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.