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Private Platforms, Recommendation Algorithms and Agency: A Study of Tinkerers on YouTube


Private Platforms, Recommendation Algorithms and Agency: A Study of Tinkerers on YouTube

Grealish, Patrick (2022) Private Platforms, Recommendation Algorithms and Agency: A Study of Tinkerers on YouTube. Masters thesis, Concordia University.

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The internet and the algorithms designed by private technology companies have become an important sub-field of social science concerned with agency online. The purpose of this research is to examine contemporary online platforms and the predominance of their recommendation algorithms on users to better understand the techniques online users employ to enact agency.

This research develops as a response to apprehension for agency in an online world driven by advertisement-based algorithms, as well as the social problems associated with the sentiment of lack of agency that emerges from these models. This research aims to examine two questions: First, do platform users have agency online when considering the functions of recommendation algorithms? Second, what role, if any, do recommendation algorithms play in that possible agency?

Questions of agency necessarily raise in importance as communication and information sharing moves to online platforms that use algorithms to classify and effect human action. This research is pertinent because its goal is to create knowledge so that we may better understand and act online.

The methodology is a combination of three stages of data collection; initial documentary research of available information provided to the public by Google and independent sources; documentary and case study research of data generated from YouTube and Google; a judgement sampling method to select YouTube users and a thematic analysis of their experiences. This method considers chosen users as expert informants in cases of controversy that help explain collective existence on the platform.

The findings of this research support previous research critical of the manipulative nature of algorithms. This research also contributes to a nuanced view of agency online by finding that agency does occur within technology-literate collaborative groups of users. Conceptualizing content creators and recommendation algorithms as a network of actors within a social context better explains cases of agency experienced by users. The findings support that greater knowledge of technology allows individuals greater affordances of agency.
The research proves that platform content creators are fertile informants for a study of platforms. The typology of content creators is an expansion of previous tinkerer research that supports the continued pertinence of a tech-knowledgeable user typology in sociology concerned with a lack of agency online.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Sociology and Anthropology
Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Authors:Grealish, Patrick
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:M.A.
Date:10 June 2022
Thesis Supervisor(s):Simon, Bart
ID Code:991033
Deposited On:27 Oct 2022 14:48
Last Modified:27 Oct 2022 14:48
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