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On digital media, algorithms that process data and recommend content have become ubiquitous. Their fast and barely regulated adoption has raised concerns about their role in well-being both at the individual and collective levels. Algorithmic mechanisms on digital media are powered by social drivers, creating a feedback loop that complicates research to disentangle the role of algorithms and already existing social phenomena.
Our brief overview of the current evidence on how algorithms affect well-being, misinformation, and polarization suggests that the role of algorithms in these phenomena is far from straightforward and that substantial further empirical research is needed. Existing evidence suggests that algorithms mostly reinforce existing social drivers, a finding that stresses the importance of reflecting on algorithms in the larger societal context that encompasses individualism, populist politics, and climate change.
We present concrete ideas and research questions to improve algorithms on digital platforms and to investigate their role in current problems and potential solutions. Finally, we discuss how the current shift from social media to more algorithmically curated media brings both risks and opportunities if algorithms are designed for individual and societal flourishing rather than short-term profit.
H. Metzler, D. Garcia, Social Drivers and Algorithmic Mechanisms on Digital Media, Perspectives on Psychological Science (2023) .