Algorithmic Anarchy

Imagine that you spend months or maybe even years developing something that leads to an important scientific discovery; something that was previously impossible. Something so profound that could change the course of how similar things are studied. Now imagine that all of that hard work is discredited simply because you are a woman. Unfortunately for computer scientist Katie Bouman, she doesn’t have to imagine because it happened.

Team’s Scientific Achievement Swallowed by Social Media Black Hole

Bouman is part of a team of astrophysicists, scientists and software developers who wrote the code to capture the first image of a black hole. Bouman’s work was integral to the discovery and thus she became the media spokesperson for unveiling the team’s achievement. However, the fact that she is female did not sit well with online misogynist groups who posted content calling Bouman a fraud and citing that credit should be given to her male colleague. The incel content completely obliterated the official story crediting Bouman’s work. The trolling originated on Reddit, and is still readily available there. Currently, (at 3:50pm on April 18, 2019) the first four links on Reddit point to who Katie Bouman is and what she discovered, but the following SEVEN links are sexist white male propaganda. This incel trolling campaign inevitably spilled into social media channels, most notably YouTube and Instagram. The video, which rose to the top search result on YouTube searches, claimed that Bouman’s straight, white, male colleague was robbed of the credit due him for writing the majority of the code.

Here are two clips that showed up on my Facebook feed and they are fortunately real clips of Bouman herself explaining how her team made the scientific achievement:

In Bouman’s FaceBook post, she didn’t personally claim responsibility for the development of the software, but instead gave credit to THE ENTIRE TEAM, comprised of both male and female scientists and developers.

Mic Drop: I’m Not One of You

In a long string of tweets, Bouman’s colleague Andrew Chael came to her defense stating facts to respond to the negative trolling such as questioning how he could be responsible for “writing 850,000 lines of code when the software only contains a total of 68,000 lines of code. With respect to the fact that he’s a straight, white, male wronged by feminist agendas – this isn’t true either because he’s gay.

Instagram Values Popularity Over Authenticity

On Instagram, trolls created a fake “official” account under Katie Bouman’s name. When NBC News reporter Ben Collins contacted Instagram, whose parent company is FaceBook, the social media outlet’s first response was to inquire into what Bouman’s personal account is. Apparently the existence of her social media platform is more important than stopping the online attacks against her. Keep in mind that out of all of the social media platforms, Instagram is constructed very status-driven. I’ll admit that it is my social media hangout spot of choice and I regularly post content and stories on my personal blog page. However, if you are an Instagram blogger who is just starting out there are functions of the site that are only available to you once you have a certain number of followers. For example, are you familiar with the “swipe up” feature that bloggers and influencers use in their stories? If you have less than 10,000 followers, you will not have access to the “swipe up” feature. I am in the “have not” group. The demographics on Instagram users indicate that the majority of users are primarily females in their twenties and early thirties. Didn’t we leave the popularity contest behind in high school? Apparently not.

All social media channels use algorithms to curate available content for their users. This infographic breaks down the algorithm philosophy of each social media platform except YouTube.

The YouTube algorithm is a unique problem all on its own where user searches more often than not display the most sensationalist content. Read: if it’s a train wreck, they want you to watch. Because most people cannot look away from a trainwreck and revenue-generating ads are banking on it. This article posted on NBC News website explains in detail how YouTube’s algorithm works.

There is definitely a consipiracy here and it seems the conspiracy lies in the fact that social media algorithms not only allow for trolling content to exist, but that they are designed to promote it.

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