Theme 1: The Use of Algorithms

Emancipating Users Against Algorithmic Biases

This theme should take up most of the first half of a 2-hour jury session and includes introducing the concept of algorithms and how they govern our online lives, and some interactive tasks designed to get the participants thinking about how they use the internet and how their data is used in different ways.

Background Information

Have you ever wondered what an algorithm is and how it might affect your life?  How is your data being used online?  How might your personal data influence your internet searches and the information that you see when online?

These are some of the questions that you will be able to pose to participants during the session.  Using highly interactive activities, this part of the Youth Jury aims to do the following:

  • Explore what participants understand by the word ‘algorithm’.
  • Help participants reflect on their online activities and social media use, and discuss how algorithms may affect these activities. Consider some of the benefits of algorithm use in everyday life.
  • Discuss what types of personal data might be collected online, and how inferences can be made about this data by social media platforms and others
  • Elicit comments on how social media platforms and others make profits- specifically from the use of personal data that is shared online.
  • Consider the potential pitfalls of the way that algorithms are programmed, for example it might lead to an echo chamber, where people only see information that reflects their own views.

What is an algorithm? How do they govern what we see online?

What data do algorithms use to make decisions? Where do they get it from?

What are filter bubbles and echo chambers? What are the issues?

Running Theme 1

Download the Resource Pack

There are three main suggested activities as part of this theme:

  1. Mapping your online world (Task 1)
  2. The use of your data (Tasks 2 and 3)
  3. Your personal filter bubble (Task 4)

Task 1: What do you use the internet for and which apps/websites do you use the most for these things?

15 minutes

Write on big sheet of paper or whiteboard the areas that the group use the internet for, for example social media, shopping, gaming, homework, blogging, and so on.

Give each participant a sheet of logo stickers, ask them to identify the apps that they use the most often, and then task them with placing their app logos on the big sheet of paper near the relevant description of what they use the internet for. For example, a participant might select the ‘Amazon’ app and place it near the word that says ‘shopping’.

Discuss the range of apps and uses of the internet. Introduce the concept of algorithms and discuss their definition. Start positively, focusing on the range of benefits that the online world provides, and use the map they made to anchor real examples of how algorithms might be used online. Towards the end of this part you can ask them to begin to consider potential issues in using algorithms.

Task 2: What data might be used in personalisation?

10 minutes

Introduce the ‘black box’ as representing an algorithm. Instructions for making your own can be found in the resource kit. Use the data cards (also in the resource kit) to explore the different types of data companies that may collect. We suggest introducing the data cards and discussing where companies might get that data from, or which data types can be combined to infer other information about you. This is meant as a fast-paced and fun activity to get the young people to discuss the types of data they put online, and which data might be linked, etc.

Task 3: Data as currency: How much is your data worth?

10 minutes

The back of the data cards have an image of money on them, which is revealed to the participants in this section. The aim of this task is to discuss how the big technology companies make money from selling your personal data. A suggested activity is to deal each person a series of cards and ask them to identify:
– which data card is worth the most/least to *them*
– which data card might be worth the most/least to *a company* (for example Facebook, Amazon, Uber)
If there is time you may also wish to discuss between themselves whether they would swap cards to make them more willing to ‘share their hand’.

After discussing the different types of data and their ‘value’, you should put the data cards and related post-its into the ‘black box’, to represent the algorithm being trained on a data set of people’s online behaviour.

Task 4: Your personal filter bubble

15 minutes

Each person is provided with a sheet that represents their own personal filter bubble (in the resource pack). We suggest that the concept of filter bubbles and echo chambers is introduced to the group using real world examples or images, perhaps in the form of a couple of slides or a video. There are some links to useful media stories on the Further Information page. The aim of this activity is to get the young people to think about the kinds of things they often see online (inside their filter bubble) and to consider the things that they therefore may not be being shown, and why this might be an issue. They can then compare their filter bubbles with those of the people next to them and begin to consider that not everyone is shown the same thing when they are online.

Ending Theme 1 and leading into Theme 2

It is helpful to introduce some real life examples of discrimination and bias that have occurred due to the use of algorithms – there are some suggested links on the Further Information page. In running our Youth Juries we found that introducing and talking about 2 or 3 examples at the end of Theme 1 allowed the jurors to consider the issues and talk to each other during the break, meaning they were ready and primed to discuss the issues in Theme 2.