Scholar to address threats of social media algorithms, personalization

A leading digital media scholar will present the spring 2016 Robert M. Pockrass Memorial Lecture at 5 p.m. Monday, April 4, in Foster Auditorium of Paterno Library at Penn State’s University Park campus.

Christian Sandvig’s free public lecture, titled “The Awakenings of the Filtered: Algorithmic Personalization in Social Media and Beyond,” is co-sponsored by the College of Communications and the University Libraries.

During his talk Sandvig will argue that media of all kinds have been transformed to include automatic selection and ranking as a basic part of their operation. Status updates, advertising, news, prices, recommendations and more are now chosen and even produced dynamically by computer programs. While computers are making media technologies more powerful, Sandvig thinks there is every reason to believe that these algorithms also pose serious risks, undermining or transforming basic understandings of information, culture, communication, accountability and justice. 

Sandvig is associate professor of communication studies and information at the University of Michigan. His research investigates the consequences of algorithmic systems that curate and organize information and culture. His group blog, “The Social Media Collective,” was recently named one of the “Must-Follow Feeds” in science, culture and design by Wired magazine. He previously received the National Science Foundation’s CAREER award in Human-Centered Computing and was named a “next-generation leader in science and technology policy” by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

Articles, interviews and quotations about Sandvig’s research have appeared in the Economist, National Public Radio, the New York Times, Le Monde, Radio National in Australia, in CBC Canada and other outlets. 

Sandvig is also a computer programmer with industry experience at a Fortune 500 company, regional government and a San Francisco area software start-up.

The Pockrass Lecture was named after the late Professor Robert M. Pockrass, a member of Penn State’s journalism faculty from 1948 to 1977. Pockrass, who specialized in public opinion and popular culture, served as the graduate officer and taught radio news writing.

Last Updated March 14, 2016