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Algorithmic Experts: Selling Algorithmic Lore on YouTube

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Media and Society
Volume6
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020

King's Authors

Abstract

This article considers the growing influence of self-styled algorithmic “experts.” Experts build valuable brands, accumulate notoriety, and piece together careers by selling theorizations of algorithmic visibility on YouTube to aspiring and established creators. They function as intermediaries between sanctioned YouTube industries and the agency of cultural producers. Expertise is developed through research, strategies, and theories to help content creators mitigate platform-specific risks, particularly the risk of algorithmic invisibility. Experts develop entrepreneurial self-brands and position themselves as YouTube’s adversaries, performing “experiments” ostensibly to reveal or translate hidden algorithmic signals or correct “misleading” information. However, ultimately, they teach creators to be complicit with YouTube’s organizational strategies and business models. Studying algorithmic experts reveals insights into how new media producers negotiate platform visibility, but also speaks to long-standing questions about how the management of risk in cultural industries shapes symbolic production. I draw on a 3-year ethnography of YouTube industries to illustrate how experts interpret and instruct in how to become algorithmically (and advertiser) compliant on YouTube. In addition, I highlight their broader role as de facto producers and gatekeepers for aspiring and existing content producers. Meritocratic logic flows through experts’ outputs—meaning expertise is limited to individualized and patchwork solutions that do not address the significant socio-economic inequalities that are still inherent on social media platforms.

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