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It’s time to reform social media recommender systems

In 2023, the generative AI boom dominated tech policy discussions, overshadowing the urgent need to overhaul social media’s recommender systems. This shift in focus is not surprising as policymakers’ interest has waned since a peak in 2021 after Meta’s internal documents were leaked. Yet, with elections looming in 2024, fixing these algorithms becomes crucial for protecting democratic discourse and the future of democracy. 

The EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) seeks to mitigate these issues through legal requirements for algorithmic transparency and the management of illegal content, yet its broad definitions of risk and the autonomy granted to platforms raise concerns about its effectiveness.

While alternatives to engagement-centric algorithms are being explored, they introduce new challenges. Innovative models like ‘democratic attitudes’ and ‘bridging-based ranking’ promise improvements but risk muting essential voices or hindering social innovation.

In this op-ed written for Euractiv by our Digital Policy Manager Sofia Calabrese and Democracy Reporting International’s Research Coordinator for Digital Democracy Jan Beyer, we argue that reforming recommender systems should involve not just social media giants but a broader spectrum of stakeholders, including policymakers.

Cover photo by Aleksei on