In the context of a society pervasively intermediated by digital technologies, algorithms represent a new and important actor in the determination of social relations, cultural patterns and economic outcomes. Algorithms ‘recommend’ which movies to watch, what items to purchase, who to trust when using an online service, and are increasingly used as instruments of control for crime prevention, financial assessment and economic risk.

A particular element of interest is given by the fact that algorithms hold an increasingly important role in the formation of public opinion, that is now largely mediated by social media platforms and digital resources.

As the famous Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed in the context of the 2016 “Brexit” referendum and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America of the same year, algorithms bear demonstrable potential to play a key role in filtering personalised news content to users based upon their preferences and previous consumption, thus affecting what information sources users will and will not be able to access.

Yet, despite their pervasive presence, we still know little about them, how they work, how they produce the outcomes we see. Building on the understanding of these challenges, Algocount seeks to expand our current understanding of, and raise awareness about, the role of algorithms in society, with a specific focus on the formation of public opinion in the Italian context. To this end, it asks the following questions:

  • What is the perception about the role of algorithms in the formation of public opinion in Italy? How much do Italians know about algorithms, their power, and the outcomes they produce?

  • How can we visualise the intervention of algorithms in the formation of public opinion in the Italian context, to the aim of making the processes of information filtering and access by the general public more accountable to public scrutiny?

  • What policies can be put in place, starting from the Italian context and then at a European and global level, in order to increase transparency, reduce opacity and enhance accountability of the intermediation role algorithms play in the formation of public opinion?