Algorithmic Knowledge Gaps: A New Horizon of (Digital) Inequality

Kelley Cotter, Bianca C. Reisdorf


Algorithms serve as gatekeepers and arbiters of truth online. Understanding how algorithms influence which information individuals encounter better enables them to properly calibrate their reception of the information. Yet, knowledge of platform algorithms appears to be limited and not universally distributed. In line with the long history of knowledge inequities, we suggest that algorithmic knowledge varies according to socioeconomic advantage. We further argue that algorithms are experience technologies in that they are more easily understood through use. Nevertheless, socioeconomic background continues to shape information and communication technology use, thereby further influencing disparities in algorithmic knowledge. Using data from a survey of a random sample of Internet users in the United States, we found support for the relationship between algorithmic knowledge and socioeconomic background in the context of online search. The findings provide preliminary evidence that extant structural inequalities underlie algorithmic knowledge gaps in this domain.


algorithms, algorithmic knowledge, algorithmic literacy, knowledge gaps, digital divides, digital inequality, digital literacy

Full Text: