[SIGCIS-Members] "How Social Media's Giant Algorithm Shapes our Feeds."

Alexandre Hocquet alexandre.hocquet at univ-lorraine.fr
Fri Oct 29 04:29:25 PDT 2021

Thank you very much Paul and everyone for raising that discussion. To 
borrow from Paul, indeed, algorithms are in fact pieces of software, and 
I think the result of this rebranding is to invisibilize what a piece of 
software really is : much more than algorithms, and much more than lines 
of code.

Software is compiling. More generally, its relationship to hardware is 
not straightforward. It is not obvious that it may run on any machine. 
It is not obvious that it will work consistently in different computing 

Software is licensing. Beyond an open or proprietary dichotomy, it is 
not obvious how and when a piece of software may be used by whom on what 
terms. Especially as it's now been a long time that coding/programming 
is not about "writing [put an impressive number here] lines of code", 
but more about calling libraries that other developed, and licensed.

Software is distribution. Algorithms always seem to be developed for 
internal (and even secret) use but people elaborating a piece of 
software are most of the time creating a tool that will be used by other 
people (even within a corporation), and this leads me to the most 
important point : Software is not only about developers, it is also 
about users. The use people make of software is not necessarily how it 
is meant to be used by the developers. Bernhard Rieder in Engines of 
Order makes the case that every developer is indeed a user of the 
libraries they are calling.

Software is about the complex relationships between developers and users 
and algorithms tend to erase all this, they're seen as teleogical, and 
yes, threatening weapons to the point that they're now rhetorically the 
usual suspects when something goes wrong, the ideal culprits for all the 
sins of humanity.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe that "algorithms" perform very mean 
tasks like equating gorillas with black people. Algorithms of oppression 
indeed. There's a very active, very timely  and very welcome body of 
research on these topics, but I do believe that rhetorically calling a 
piece of software "an algorithm" tends to invibilize (or even 
anthropomorphize, like for example in the "algorithmic bias" phrasing) a 
lot of aspects of these pieces of software.

Alexandre Hocquet
Archives Henri Poincaré & RWTH c:o/re

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