The Algorithm — a 2023 Mozilla Creative Media Awardee — demystifies social media feeds. Users can test an emerging algorithm as it develops

(TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2024) -- The social media algorithms we interact with each day (and sometimes, all day) anticipate our wants, needs, and emotions. But how exactly do they do it?

Today, Mozilla Creative Media Awardee The Algorithm is helping users answer that question — by letting them test a fictitious social media algorithm themselves.

The Algorithm is an interactive educational experience that simulates the algorithmic feeds of applications like TikTok and Instagram Reels. Users help test a fictional company’s social media algorithm, scrolling, liking, and sharing content as they go. All the while, they witness what happens under the hood in real time as the system becomes personalized to them.

The Algorithm is created by Lujain Ibrahim and Alia ElKattan. Ibrahim is a PhD student at the University of Oxford researching sociotechnical approaches to evaluating and governing AI systems, their impact, and risks to society. ElKattan is a PhD student examining the sociopolitical implications of online platforms and emerging technologies. With the support of a previous Mozilla Creative Media Award, she co-built Survival of the Best Fit, an online educational game on AI bias.

Say Ibrahim and ElKattan: “People describe the TikTok recommendation algorithm as they do many other AI systems: as a mystical force that provides eerily accurate recommendations. But this project demystifies what such systems entail — it empowers users to examine where their agency starts and ends by interrogating concepts like personalization, engagement optimization, content variety, transparency, and algorithmic choice.”

TikTok users describe its algorithm as a mystical force that provides eerily accurate recommendations. But this project demystifies what recommender systems entail.

Creative Media Awardees Lujain Ibrahim and Alia ElKattan

The Algorithm was selected for the IDFA Doc Lab Forum 2023. The duo are now building Decifer Studio, a creative studio that breaks down how emerging technologies, like AI, work (and don’t work) for the broader public.

Mozilla Creative Media Awards uplift art and media to communicate complex technical concepts, deepening society’s understanding of technology and demanding accountability from those who build and deploy it. Past awardees have created interactive experiences, games, videos, films and more, and projects have gone on to show at a variety of regional and global film festivals (IDFA, Tribeca, TIFF, Cannes) and museums (Tate Modern, MoMA, HKW), to name a few.

The Algorithm is part of the2023 CMA cohort unpacking how AI is — and should be — designed.