Take Me to Your Algorithm


My former editor and current friend Alan Rusbridger spoke to the House of Lords communications and digital committee last Tuesday (2 March) in his capacity as a member of Facebook’s Oversight Board


The board has been the subject of furious debate since it was announced, and subject to a lot of analysis.

The best read I’ve found is Kate Klonick’s piece in the New Yorker, though I don’t agree with the characterisation of the board as a ‘Supreme Court’ given how limited its remit currently is and the fact that Mark Zuckerberg could unilaterally abolish it tomorrow.  We may have the principle that a Parliament cannot bind it successor: Zuckerberg can change his mind twice before breakfast if he pleases.


One of the points that came out of Alan Rusbridger’s committee appearance was that the board is, according to The Guardian report, ‘trying to gain access to the social network’s curation algorithm to understand how it works’. Indeed, Alan is quoted as saying:

At some point we’re going to ask to see the algorithm, I feel sure, whatever that means. Whether we’ll understand when we see it is a different matter.

This is such an unhelpful thing to say that I was prompted to tweet.

The reification of the algorithm really has to stop. It’s not an altarpiece. Ask the people who designed it what their intentions were and whether it has met them. You don’t need a code review.

I’d like to expand on this point.

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