Those who disrupt the free flow of information in our society or any other pose a threat to our economy, our government, and our civil society. Remarks on Internet Freedom – Hillary Rodham Clinton, January 21, 2010
Events that could occur:
- Spam algorithms blocking e-mails containing certain references;
- Video distribution algorithms arguing that spam, copyright or other policies have been violated and removing content;
- Video distribution algorithms turning off the option to have third parties embed videos on their sites;
- Video distribution algorithms arguing that ‘the user’ has removed content or that his account has been terminated for some reason;
- Trending and ranking algorithms forgetting to trend and rank certain content;
- Content, websites and blogs accidentally being taken down “due to an automated process;”
- Network algorithms stating “The server encountered a temporary error and could not complete your request. Please try again in 30 seconds. That’s all we know;”
- Algorithms deciding that posted content should only be showing up to the person who posted it;
- Algorithms accidentally polluting search indices with an abundance of irrelevant search results;
- Algorithms stating that there was a content delivery failure for whatever reason;
- Algorithms redirecting internet users from the content the user intended to visit to content that is probably much more to the user’s liking.
Seemingly mundane technical specifications of Internet routers and social-networking software platforms have powerful political implications. In virtual realms, programmers essentially set the laws of physics, or at least the rules of interaction, for their cyberspaces. If it sometimes seems that media pundits treat Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Apple’s Steve Jobs as gods, that’s because in a sense they are—sitting on Mount Olympus with the power to hurl digital thunderbolts with a worldwide impact on people.
Instead of just complaining, many of those heading to New York next month believe they can build alternatives that reduce the power of those virtual deities and give more control to mere mortals.
Instead of simply removing critical content causing all kinds of public outrage and civil disorder, it’s probably much more effective to have people believe that either it has been taken down accidentally, that it’s still out there somewhere but couldn’t reach its destination due to a technical malfunction, or that people are just not that interested in the message.
It’s the algorithm, stupid! Do algorithms offer the ultimate grounds for exoneration? Can they fail, or only the people writing them?