Pleasing the algorithm

Helsingin Sanomat Foundation (2023-2024)

Kuvaus: Users hoping to create successful content on digital media platforms – for example, professional influencers and artists – obviously take into account the preferences and interests of their potential human audiences. In addition, they need to consider the effect of algorithms that measure, organize and target media content, thereby forming feedback loops between media consumption and content visibility. This, we argue, happens to the extent that the categories of human audience and technologies are becoming inseparable. In the project, we conceptualize algorithms as an integral part of target audiences and approach content production in terms of “pleasing the algorithm”, that is, how users begin to act in ways that they believe to be rewarded by an audience consisting of algorithmic technologies and human beings.

We tentatively approach “pleasing the algorithm” as an experiential, normative and productive phenomenon: as a part of the lived experience of content producers; as a set of rules and conventions that media producers follow, hoping to gain visibility and success; and as something that has observable effects on offerings, subjects and practices in digital media. We ask: How do content producers experience the human-algorithmic audience on digital platforms? How do they take the logics and dynamics of this audience into consideration in their creative production? What are the consequences, either personally experienced or collective, of pleasing the hybrid audience? The project examines these questions across empirical settings: first, we map the phenomenon by examining social media discussions on pleasing the algorithm; and second, we deepen our view on the practices of cultural production with interviews and participatory methods.

The project provides a timely and future-looking view on the datafication of media, its cultural and societal consequences, and how the media field is being shaped by human-algorithm collaborations.

Project leader:
Tuukka Lehtiniemi
Jesse Haapoja, Hanna Reinikainen, Laura Savolainen