This research project studies the use of algorithms in a news application of a large broadcasting company. The project is implemented in collaboration with Finnish Broadcasting Company, Yleisradio (YLE) as part of the master’s studies programme in Sustainable Digital Life at Tampere University. The project is conducted in a timeframe of two years. In the beginning of the studies, students were introduced to problems which will be the basis of their projects during the time of their studies. During the process the students gain knowledge of their topics and utilize it in their thesis. At the end of the project, the client receives useful research information about the specific problem and its possible solution.
The title of this project is called Understanding Algorithms and it is a subtheme of ethical challenges and trust in digitality. Algorithms are used in for example recommendations on news feeds, automatic filtering and sorting content, search results and social media feeds. The theme is topical because the ethics of using algorithms have attracted criticism and educating algorithmic awareness can be seen as a necessity in the attempt to tackle the ongoing information crisis in the digital society.
The Wicked problem
The questions raised by discussions between Tampere University and the client YLE in the beginning of the project were whether algorithms create or break bubbles and what principles and ideas are the basis and aims of the operation of algorithmic solutions in different services. There were also questions about the risks and opportunities of public service media algorithms from the public’s perspective and trusting the provider of information in terms of selecting the content people see. Other relevant questions were whether digital media can succeed without algorithms and are media users and media companies already dependent on algorithm usage.
Defining the project
The project’s client YLE is interested in how the use of algorithms is visible to the users of their online news services and how to develop their digital news service algorithm usage from the user perspective. In the beginning of the project the client described their need for transparent use of algorithms and the need to explain the use of algorithms in an understandable manner to the users of their digital news services.
The project began by discussing with the client about their needs. The most important thing the first discussion offered was a specific sentence which defined the values of YLE news services: important information belongs to everyone. After the first meeting the client continued to refine the problem more specifically and the student began to research the topic of algorithms to gain more knowledge.
The main problem introduced by the client was the lack of transparency in algorithm usage in their online news services. The client needs the use of algorithms explained in the way that the users can understand. They also emphasised their responsibility for ethical digital services as well as the visibility of their ethical values in their services. The client has long-term plans to make an AI register. This research contributes to the process by offering a user-based research of their news services from the viewpoint of communicating about algorithms. This research is carried out to raise awareness and educate the general public on the issue of algorithm use in news services of public service broadcasting by researching the case of Yleisradio (YLE).