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Algorithmic Literacy and Platform Trust

Sat, August 11, 8:30 to 10:10am, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Floor: Level 4, 407


Although algorithms are an essential part of how the Internet functions, there is little research about how well Internet users understand algorithms and how this (lack of) knowledge affects if and how Internet users utilize and trust certain algorithm-based platforms, such as search engines. This is the first quantitative study that examines these relationships in the context of broader digital inequality and digital skills research. We use a representative online survey sample of more than 2,000 Internet users from the United States to explore what affects algorithmic literacy related to search engines, how this literacy affects trust in search engine results, and finally if and how it affects how much Internet users utilize search engines. The multivariate regression results show that algorithmic literacy does affect trust in search engine results, with those who have lower literacy levels being more skeptical of the accuracy and bias of the information they find in a search. However, the results also show that algorithmic literacy has no effect on the amount of use of search engines, whereas general amount of Internet use and digital skills do. In the context of ever-growing dependence on algorithm-based platforms and digital inequality literature the paper critically discusses what these results mean for future research and practice in this area. Given that algorithmic literacy and digital skills are not the same concept, we argue that more attention needs to be given to researching what affects algorithmic literacy and what can be done to improve algorithmic literacy for all Internet users.