CoverIntroduction and Table of Media Literacy Activities for Key Civics ConceptsDefining Critical Media Literacy1. Foundations of the United States Political SystemDemocracy in Social Media Policies and Community StandardsThe Internet as a Public Utility21st Century Women STEM InnovatorsMedia Coverage of the RoyalsRepresentations of Native Americans in Film, Local History Publications, and School Mascots2. The Development of United States GovernmentDeclarations of Independence on Social MediaMarketing and Regulating Self-Driving CarsRepresentations of and Racism Toward Black Americans in the MediaPolitical Debates Through Songs from Hamilton: An American MusicalBill of Rights on Twitter3. Institutions of United States GovernmentHollywood Movies About the Branches of GovernmentWriting an Impeachment Press ReleaseMembers of Congress' Use of Social MediaPolitical Impacts of Public Opinion PollsWebsite Design for New Political Parties4. The Rights and Responsibilities of CitizensImmigration in the NewsPortrayals of Immigrants in Television and FilmCOVID-19 Information EvaluationWomen Political Leaders in the MediaOnline Messaging by Advocacy Organizations and Special Interest GroupsDigital Games for Civic EngagementSocial Media and the ElectionsMedia Spin in the Coverage of Political DebatesCelebrities' Influence on PoliticsPolitical Activism Through Social MediaMedia Recruitment of Public Sector WorkersImages of Teachers and TeachingRepresenting Trans IdentitiesMedia Framing of the Events of January 6, 2021Music as Protest ArtPACs, Super PACs, and Unions in the Media5. The Constitution, Amendments and Supreme Court DecisionsProhibition in the MediaThe Equal Rights Amendment on Twitter and Other Social MediaCivil War News Stories and Recruitment AdvertisementsRepresentations of Gender and Race on CurrencyThe Equality Act on TwitterReading Supreme Court Dissents AloudTelevision Cameras in Courtrooms6. The Structure of State and Local GovernmentNative American Mascots and LogosA Constitution for the InternetMilitary Recruitment and the MediaYour Privacy on Social MediaPandemic Policy Information in the MediaGendered Language in Media Coverage of Women in PoliticsEnvironmental Campaigns Using Social MediaTrusted Messengers, the Media, and the PandemicOnline Campaigning for Political OfficeAdvertising the Lottery Online and In PrintLocal Governments, Social Media and Digital Democracy7. Freedom of the Press and News/Media LiteracyPress Freedom in the United States and the WorldObjectivity and the News from All SidesInvestigative Journalism and Social ChangeNews Photographs & Newspaper DesignHow Reporters' Report EventsRecommendation Algorithms on Social Media PlatformsFake News Investigation and EvaluationCritical Visual Analysis of Online and Print MediaMemes and TikToks as Political Cartoons

Recommendation Algorithms on Social Media Platforms

Recommendation algorithms, built into social media media platforms, Internet search tools, e-commerce sites, and other digital applications, influence people's behaviors and choices on a daily basis in often unnoticed ways.

While algorithms are simply "instructions for solving a problem or completing a task" (Rainie & Anderson, 2017, para. 2), they can be used to shape thinking and behavior by doing things like suggesting "products, services, and information to users based on analysis of data" (Voice Tech Podcast, Medium, June 25, 2019, para. 2). For example, social media platforms use recommendation algorithms to determine what you should see on their sites (e.g., posts, sponsored ads, people) based on data about what you have viewed, bought, or done before.

In addition, systems to have algorithms make everyday life decisions are being proposed. Would you prefer having a life decision made for you by another person or a computer algorithm? How do you think most people would respond? The answer may surprise you.

In a survey, 4000 people were asked whether they wanted a human or an algorithm to decide for them if they would win a coffee gift card, get a bank loan, join a clinical trial for a promising medical treatment, or face a sizable money fine in civil court. In just over half of the situations, people preferred an algorithm to a human -- when they believed the decision would made quicker, was cheaper, and would be more accurate (Bambauer & Risch, "Worse Than Human?" Arizona State Law Review 2021).

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On social media and e-commerce platforms, the goal of recommendation algorithms is to keep you on the site, app, or platform as long as possible to make more money. Advocates hail the convenience of personalized digital experiences, while critics worry that users experience only a narrow range of suggestions and choices.

In the following activities, you will examine YouTube's recommendation algorithm and then design your own.

Activity 1: Evaluate YouTube's Recommendation Algorithm 

Activity 2: Design a News Recommendation Algorithm

Additional Resources

Connecting to the Standards

  • Massachusetts Civics & Government Standards
    • Evaluate the benefits and challenges of digital news and social media to a democratic society. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T7.4]
  • ISTE Standards
    • Digital Citizen
      • 2d. Students manage their personal data to maintain digital privacy and security and are aware of data-collection technology used to track their navigation online.
    • Knowledge Constructor
      • 3b: Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data, or other resources.
      • 3d: Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
    • Creative Communicator
      • 6a: Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication. 
      • 6b: Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
      • 6d: Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for the intended audiences.
  • DLCS Standards
    • Interpersonal and Societal Impact (CAS.c)
    • Digital Tools (DTC.a)
    • Collaboration and Communication (DTC.b)
    • Research (DTC.c)
    • Human and Computer Partnerships (CS.b)
  • English Language Arts > History/Social Studies Common Core Standards
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.7
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.97