Larger, anonymous and machine-driven collectives: How algorithms transcend private into the public life of individuals

Silvio Carta

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This paper presents an insight into how collectives are built around technology, and more specifically, around the use of online apps and social networks. With this study, I claim that large collectives emerge as the accidental result of individuals’ quest for self-affirmation and social recognition amongst a usually limited group of contacts. The individual user of social media apps shares his/her daily activities and achievements with a small community of followers in order to receive their appreciation in the form of comments, likes and shares. Whilst the user and his/her community operate under the presumption that such data are limited and restricted to boundaries of their own network, the software that runs the entire digital system harvests and manipulates their data, aggregating them with other networks to generate trends and improve the system on offer. Such machine learning systems operate as overarching agencies working across communities, contacts and individuals, constructing larger, interrelated and anonymous collectives that are not visible or accessible to the individuals who form them. The software is the only entity with utter control of such collectives.
Through a number of case studies, this work explains how such systems work and operate silently in the background of our daily activities, and provides an account of how the private and the public life of individuals are becoming increasingly mediated by software without their full awareness.
This paper presents an analysis of some the algorithmic logics that run the transition between private and public lives of individuals and construct large software-driven collectives. This contribution aims at exposing and commenting some the mechanisms that underpin the silent making of the public life as controlled by machines.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTBC
Publication statusSubmitted - 2020


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