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YouTube Algorithm Exposed: DMI Summer School project week 1

DATACTIVE participated in the first week of the Digital Methods Initiative summer school 2019 with a data sprint related to the side project ALEX. DATACTIVE’s insiders Davide and Jeroen, together with research associate and ALEX’s software developer Claudio Agosti, pitched a project aimed at exploring the logic of YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, using the ALEX-related browser extension ytTREX allows you to produce copies of the set of recommended videos, with the main purpose to investigate the logic of personalization and tracking behind the algorithm. During the week, together with a number of highly motivated students and researchers, we engaged in collective reflection, experiments and analysis, fueled by Brexit talks, Gangnam Style beats, and the secret life of octopuses. Our main findings (previewed below, and detailed later in a wiki report) pertain look into which factors (language settings, browsing behavior, previous views, domain of videos, etc.) help trigger the highest level of personalization in the recommended results.


Algorithm exposed_ investigasting Youtube – slides





Stefania at Science Foo

On July 12-14 Stefania will be at X in Mountain View, in Silicon Valley, as one of the invitees to Sci Foo. Science Foo is a series of interdisciplinary conferences organized by O’Reilly Media, Digital Science, Nature Publishing Group and Google. It is an “unconference focused on emerging technology, and is designed to encourage collaboration between scientists who would not typically work together”. Stefania plans to propose a session on ‘decolonizing data’.


Stefania at the Summer School on Methods for the Study of Political Participation and Mobilization, Florence

On June 4, Stefania gives a lecture on ethical issues in social movement and political participation research at the Summer School on Methods for the Study of Political Participation and Mobilization, in Florence, Italy.

The school is organised by the ECPR Standing Group on Participation and Mobilization and the Dipartimento di Scienze Politico-Sociali at the Scuola Normale Superiore.



Stefania at the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft, Berlin

On April 9, Stefania was in Berlin to give a talk at the Magnus-Haus, the headquarters of the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (German Physical Society), as part of the Physik und Gesellschaft series.
The talk was entitled /Error 404: Social Life Not Found/ – How to bring politics back into the datafied society, and was moderated by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Eberhardt.

Datafication – or the process of rendering into data aspects of social life that have never been quantified before – has altered the way we experience ourselves and exercise our citizenship today. Blanket surveillance and privacy infringements, however, are making citizens grow aware of the critical role of information as the new fabric of social life. As the advent of datafication and the automation turn threaten social life as we know it, how can we re-invent citizenship? How can we bring progressive politics back, to inform, among others, technological development and public policies? In this talk I will reflect on how politics and citizen agency are re-designed in light of the challenges and possibilities of big data and machine learning.

Open Source Intelligence

Lonneke presented preliminary work on Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) at the Amsterdam Platform for Privacy Research meeting. It is part of an ongoing study into how OSINT takes place “in the public” by citizen journalists and activists, what kind of methods are being used, and what kind of epistemologies play a role.


Book chapter: Data for the Social Good: Towards a data activist research agenda

Lonneke van der Velden, Guillén Torres, Becky Kazansky, Kersti Wissenbach, and Stefania Milan have together co-authored a new chapter appearing in the newly published Good Data book, edited by Angela Daly, S. Kate Devitt and Monique Mann.

‘Big data’ is a hyped buzzword – or rather, it has been for a while, before being supplanted by ‘newer’ acclaimed concepts such as artificial intelligence. The popularity of the term says something about the widespread fascination with the seemingly infinite possibilities of automatized data collection and analysis. This enchantment affects not only the corporate sector, where many technology companies have centered their business model on data mining, and governments, whose intelligence agencies have adopted sophisticated machin- ery to monitor citizens. Many civic society organizations, too, are increasingly trying to take advantage of the opportunities brought about by datafication, using data to improve society. From crowdsourced maps about gender-based violence (‘feminicide’) in Latin America, to the analysis of audio-visual footage to map drone attacks in conflict zones, individuals and groups regularly produce, collect, process and repurpose data to fuel research for the social good. Problematizing the mainstream connotations of big data, these examples of ‘data activ- ism’ take a critical stance towards massive data collection and represent the new frontier of citizens’ engagement with information and technological innovation.

In this chapter we survey diverse experiences and methodologies of what we call ‘data-activist research’ – an approach to research that combines embeddedness in the social world with the research methods typical of academia and the innovative repertoires of data activists. We argue that such approach to knowledge production fosters community building and knowledge sharing, while providing a way to fruitfully interrogate datafication and democratic participation. By exploring what we can learn from data-activist projects and investigating the conditions for collaboration between activist communities and academia, we aim at laying the groundwork for a data-activist research agenda whose dynamics are socially responsible and empowering for all the parties involved.

Continue reading here and explore the larger Good Data volume here