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The Truth About The Algorithm & Our Kids

The Truth About The Algorithm & Our Kids

The word “algorithm” at the moment seems pretty irrelevant to most kids. However, as our society increasingly relies on technology, we thought it would be a good idea to go through the massive changes going on in our society at the moment and how impacts you, your kids and families in general.

It seems as though this conversation has been accelerated due to the sheer amount of digital content our children are now consuming. I don’t know what the statistics are, but your children are probably watching in the region of 3x to 4x the amount of digital media now?

That’s a lot of information to receive as a child and you won't always be around to police the amount and what they consume daily. It's just impossible.

So What Is The Algorithm?

The algorithm is a step by step instruction and a set of formulas for completing a set task. Programmers write algorithms for a computer and instruct it to perform certain tasks.

Algorithms are everywhere in our society now. Whether you’re searching for a recipe to cook tomorrow’s meal or searching for a safe cartoon for your child to watch on YouTube. 

The algorithms learn from the search queries we ask in the search box, follow which link, video or webpage we click on, and then record those actions into a giant database that stores that data and cross references it with others that have also done similar actions.

So What’s The Harm?

The problem is context really. When you or your child searches on Google or YouTube for example, we’re under the impression that we choose what we see and watch. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

The algorithm at work is looking at previous viewing history, pages and videos that people like you have previously looked at, the amount of time you are spending on a page, and how much in time and seconds you watch a YouTube video. In essence, they are designed to show you what you want to see and more what they think you should see.

Titles Can Be Manipulated

With reference to YouTube, titles of videos can be manipulated by the titles and tags that are used in order to generate views. However, the quality of the video and the relevance of the content isn’t always what we expect. 

So, if unscrupulous content creators wanted to get the attention of your children, they could quite easily mask their videos using titles that match your search terms, even if the content isn’t relevant to that search.

The question might be asked, “if the content isn’t relevant to the title and search query, then why is it being shown?” This is because the algorithm can’t calculate whether content like this is relevant if your children and others like them continue to watch that content. 

The algorithm stops showing content if no one is watching. If people are watching then it will continue to show it.

Can you see why this would be a problem?

Who Regulates What Is or Isn’t Harmful

Another good question to ask is? Who gets to decide what is or isn’t harmful?

If you think about this question logically. A computer algorithm is deciding the level of harmfulness online and not a person. How accurate is it and will things slip through that were unintended?

These are some very serious questions that haven’t yet been answered yet. If politicians in a different country are able to manipulate an entire population before an election using social media. 

What do you think private companies would do to manipulate the information provided to sell more ads?

How Can You Guard Against It?

In two words, “you can’t”. These algorithms are now a major part of all of our lives now and there’s nothing we can do to stop this tidal wave of automated decisions and manipulation I’m afraid. 

The only thing you can do is be mindful of what is going on and regulate just how much digital content your children consume on a daily basis.

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