Social media: Nothing left to chance

How do algorithms control what we see in our search results and social media feeds? And how does what we post, share and like affect what we do and do not see online.


Pedagogical resources

Below you will find a set pedagogical resources that will engage children and youth in classrooms or youth centers. These activities and worksheets will develop media awareness and critical thinking, as well as skills for analyzing and creating media.

Students are made to be critically aware when they search for information online. For example, take the user-created online encyclopaedia Wikipedia as a starting point (the lessons learnt can of course be applied on similar source of information.)

Preparations: If you do not already have one, open a free account on Wikipedia that the class can use together.
You can work together the whole class, or let the student work in pairs or small groups.

1. Ask the students what they know about Wikipedia and if they use it as a source of information, for example for schoolwork. Fill in the gaps if they lack knowledge about Wikipedia (see fact box below).
2. Invite students to suggest a topic that they are familiar with. It could be your hometown, a famous book , movie or artist.
3. Find and read through the article, silently or together.
4. Click on the History tab at the top of the Wikipedia page. This is were all the previous versions of the article are saved. You can see all changes that users have made, when they were made and who made them. Try ? Click on a few of the previous version to see how the article has been changed.
5. Click on the Talk Tab. If it’s blue, you will find discussions with posts from different people who question various things in the article. If it is red, you can take part in the discussion.
6. Check the references at the bottom of the article. They usually contain links to, for example, other web pages, a story in a magazine or a film clip on youtube.

• Is the information in the article correct?
• Is some information missing?
• What can we learn from looking under the History Tab?
• What can we learn from looking under the Discussing Tab?
• How can we contribute to this article?
• Does the article cite references?
• How can we decide whether the references and sources are reliable and trustworthy.
• Is the language neutral and objective?

Wikipedia in brief
Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopaedia project supported by the Wikimedia Foundation and based on a model of openly editable content. All the articles on Wikipedia are written collaboratively by volunteers who write without pay. Anyone with Internet access can write and make changes to Wikipedia articles, except in limited cases where editing is restricted to prevent disruption or vandalism. Users can contribute anonymously, under a pseudonym, or, if they choose to, with their real names.

Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has grown rapidly into one of the largest reference websites, attracting 374 million unique visitors monthly as of September 2015. There are about 70,000 active contributors working on more than 41,000,000 articles in 294 languages. Every day, hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world collectively make tens of thousands of edits and create thousands of new articles to augment the knowledge held by the Wikipedia encyclopaedia.

The Arabic Wikipedia is the 20th largest out of 294 languages (2016).

1. Begin by discussing the concept of algorithms that is explained in the video Social media – nothing is left to chance.

2. Ask the learners if they know what affects their Google search results and what they see in their news feed. Note suggestions on the board and fill in the knowledge gaps.

3. Let learners pair up and quickly list two positive and two negative aspects about algorithms. A positive may be: I find what I’m looking for faster”. A negative may be: “I’m missing out on stuff Facebook thinks I don’t want to see.

4. Let learners present their findings. List the pros and cons of algorithms on the board.

5. Discuss how learners can improve their privacy and what turns up in searches and feeds by changing the settings in online services like Google and Facebook.

6. Assign them to check their settings as homework.

7. When the learners return to class, let them describe what changes they made in their privacy setting, and learn from each other.

Facebook’s algorithms decide what posts turn up in your personal News Feed depending on:
• How often you interact with the friend, Page, or public figure (like a celebrity or artist) who posted the story.
• How much you have interacted with this type of post before – the post format (photo, link, text) and the content — i.e. if you like kittens you will see more kittens.
• The number of likes, shares and comments a post receives from the world in general, and from your own friends in particular.
• Whether or not the post has been or is being hidden by other users.

Google’s algorithms personalizes your search results based on, for example:
• Things you usually search for
• Websites you visit
• Videos you watch
• Ads you click on
• Your location
• The device you are using
• IP address and cookie data
• Emails you send and receive on Gmail
• Photos and videos you upload on Google

Download as a PDF

Preparations: Print short, factual articles on simple topics from Wikipedia (or a similar source). You will need access to the Internet.

Learners can work individually, in pairs or groups.

1. Explain that keywords are important when searching for information online, and that keywords that turn up in your first search results can be used as springboards to find more and better information.

2. Hand out the articles and ask learners to circle/highlight keywords that are central for the topic. It can be specific terms, names, persons or places etc.

3. Discuss how the chosen keywords can be used as jumping-off points, and how different keywords and phrases can be combined to get more relevant results.

4. Let learners test their ideas and theories in practice.


Preparations: Copy the worksheet Google it. Prepare a list of interesting topics.

1. Present a topic that the learners are interested in, or ask them to suggest topics – anything from a popular product or video game to a music genre.
2. Divide the learners into smaller groups and hand out worksheet.
3. Let the groups complete the worksheet.
4. Ask the groups to present their search results and how they achieved them.
5. Lead a class discussion, noting key points on the board.
6. Summarize and make a list of the most effective search techniques.

Questions to discuss
• How many different sources did the learners pick – list them on the board.
• Did some of the groups pick the same sources? How did that happen?
• Did any group pick a source that no other group included? How come?
• What were the similarities between the different groups’ search methods and processes?
• What was the most effective search method?