Managing Algorithms: The New Digital Divide


The early years of the digital divide focused on who had access to computers and the internet and those who did not. By the mid-2000s, digital divide research expanded beyond just looking at access to looking at differences computer and internet usage patterns. As Anjana Susurla notes, with the increasing role of artificial intelligence, there may be a new digital divide emerging – one between those who understand and manage the algorithms that govern much of the internet, and those who don’t.

A November 2018 Pew Center report about public attitudes toward the use of computer algorithms in different situations revealed that 66% of the respondents thought it would not be fair for algorithms to calculate personal finance scores. In addition, while 51% overall thought an algorithm could fairly assess parole decisions, 61% of African Americans think this type of program would be unfair to people up for parole.

Part of the reason for the skepticism about algorithms is that most users are often unaware of their presence. A January 2019 Pew survey found that 74% of respondents were unaware that Facebook maintained an “Your ad preferences” area that showed how Facebook categorized their personal interests and traits. Though majority of users (59%) say these categories reflect their real-life interests, a majority (51%) say they are not comfortable that Facebook created the list. This paper explores the existence and implications of this new digital divide.