Investigating Users’ Understanding of Invisible Algorithms and Designing around It

Eslami, Motahhare; Karahalios, Karrie

Algorithms curate everyday online content by prioritizing, classifying, associating, and filtering information. Through this curation, they exert power to shape the users’ experience and even the evolution of the system as a whole. While powerful, algorithms are usually hidden in black boxes to protect intellectual property and to hide details from users and make their interactions with the system effortless. This black box nature, however, prevents users from understanding the details of algorithmic systems’ functionality or even their existence. Whether users’ understanding is correct or not, their perceived knowledge about an algorithm can still affect their behavior. For instance, believing that posts with commercial keywords were ranked higher by the Facebook News Feed algorithm, some teenagers added product names to their posts in an attempt to manipulate the algorithm and increase their posts’ visibility [6]. However, with no way to know if their knowledge of such invisible algorithms is correct, users cannot be sure of the results of their actions