The rise of the social algorithm

Science  05 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6239, pp. 1090-1091
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab1422

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Humanity is in the early stages of the rise of social algorithms: programs that size us up, evaluate what we want, and provide a customized experience. This quiet but epic paradigm shift is fraught with social and policy implications. The evolution of Google exemplifies this shift. It began as a simple deterministic ranking system based on the linkage structure among Web sites—the model of algorithmic Fordism, where any color was fine as long as it was black (1). The current Google is a very different product, personalizing results (2) on the basis of information about past searches and other contextual information, like location. On page 1130 of this issue, Bakshy et al. (3) explore whether such personalized curation on Facebook prevents users from accessing posts presenting conflicting political views.