Network Governance: Balancing the Power of AI, Automation, Algorithms, and Datafication

Every aspect of contemporary society now uses AI, automation, algorithms, and datafication technology. They depend on and are influence by each other. The adoption of these technologies has enhanced our quality of life and productivity while providing several benefits and conveniences. There are also many problems and difficulties brought forth by technology, such as algorithm discrimination, data abuse, and privacy protection. These problems need to be governed and resolved accordingly.

Figure.1 Basic co-evolutionary governance framework of (software) technological and societal change.

Source: Governance by Algorithms, 2016.

There are numerous softwires that employ these methods in varied degrees in daily life. Douyin, in contrast to TikTok, focuses primarily on the Chinese market. Due to the influence of factors such as different market positioning, functional design, and user groups, the two applications may have some differences in some parts.

Weber mentioned that the Internet, as a system of interconnected computer networks transmitting data, is unique in that it covers the whole world, regardless of national boundaries (Weber, 2010). For convenience Supervision, Douyin and TikTok are regulated in China and overseas respectively and are affected by different regulatory policies and regulations of regulatory agencies in different countries and regions. The following content will pay more attention to the analysis related to the use and governance of these technologies by Douyin software.

To provide individualised content and user experience, Douyin leverages technologies like AI, Automation, Algorithms, and Datafication. This draws users to the app. However, because users of the material of Douyin can become unduly dependent on it. As a result, Douyin requires stronger governance from various angles.

Douyin uses the technologies at three different levels of society, culture, and politics. They use automation to collect personal information from users. And use AI algorithms to analyze this personal information and use datafication to provide users with personalized content recommendations, to ensure that users can see the most interesting content (Just & Latzer, 2016). The government monitored and screened information on Douyin using AI and algorithm technology, marking and deleting those that did not adhere to pertinent laws.

Society: Collection and Use of Personal Information

From a social perspective, Douyin’s impact on social development and social change. For example, Douyin recommends many emerging cultures and consumption concepts through AI technology and big data algorithms, which promotes social diversification and personalization. At the same time, Douyin also has negative impacts. For example, there are certain loopholes in user privacy protection, which can easily lead to user information being leaked and abused.

Douyin uses automated technology to collect user information, including user behaviour habits, viewing records, likes and comment records, etc., as well as the user’s geographic location and device information.

This information can be used to optimize Douyin’s recommendation algorithm, to better recommend content for users and improve user retention and usage time.

As Crawford describes the concept of artificial intelligence, he mentions that without extensive computation intensive Without type training, AI systems are not autonomous, rational, or able to discern anything. In fact, AI as we know it depends entirely on broader political and social structures (Crawford, 2021). Artificial intelligence requires large-scale collection of data and analysis based on these data. Without these data sets, AI cannot perform better. In Douyin software, AI also processes a large amount of information collected from users to make personalized recommendations for users.

The advantage of using automation to collect information is that it can improve user experience and facilitate statistics and management. Douyin can use automation technology to analyze users’ hobbies and behaviour habits, to provide more personalized recommended content, making it easier for users to find the content they are interested in. At the same time, automation technology can help Douyin realize the statistics and management of user information, including the collection, collation, and analysis of data such as the number of users, user behavior, and user geographic location. These data can provide Douyin with more accurate operations and decision support.

The disadvantages of using automated technology to collect user information are also obvious. These include privacy concerns, algorithmic discrimination, and restrictions on user choice. In Regulating Platforms Flew writes that in most cases, the data used for analytics are not data that users provide directly to digital products or service providers – these data are protected by privacy laws. Rather, they are non-identifiable or pseudo-anonymous data (Flew, 2021).

Figure 2. Deanonymized User Data.

Source: Regulating Platforms, 2021, p. 105.

Since Douyin needs to collect a large amount of user information, there may be a risk of user privacy being leaked. If not adequately protected, it could lead to misuse of user data or data breaches. Algorithms are the main way to automatically collect and analyse user data, and algorithm discrimination may exist. If an algorithm beneficial to certain groups of users, it may result in the marginalization of other groups. While Douyin uses automated technology to collect user information, it also limits users’ independent choices to a certain extent. Users may not be able to control what purposes their information is used for, which may raise some moral and ethical issues.

Culture: Personalized Recommendation and Information Cocoon

From a cultural perspective, Douyin’s influence on cultural dissemination and value transmission. As a short video platform, it uses AI technology and big data algorithms to analyse and filter videos and content recommended by users, thus forming a phenomenon of “information filtering”. This phenomenon will affect users’ aesthetic and cultural consumption habits to a certain extent, and then affect the development and evolution of social culture.

Douyin’s personalized recommendations and algorithm recommendations may also lead users to fall into an “information cocoon”, only seeing content related to their preferences, while ignoring other valuable information and opinions. This may lead to a narrow view of the user, unable to get comprehensive information.

The advantage of personalized recommendation is that it can bring better user experience, improve user retention and activity, and promote content creation. Through big data, artificial intelligence, and algorithm technology, Douyin can more accurately understand the preferences and needs of users and provide users with content that is more in line with their interests and tastes, thereby improving the user experience. Through personalized recommendations, Douyin can increase user stickiness and loyalty to the platform, thereby improving user retention and activity.

But the most obvious disadvantage is the information cocoon caused by personalized recommendation. Due to the existence of personalized recommendations, users may fall into an information cocoon and only see content related to their interests, thus missing other valuable information. Users only see the content they are interested in, while ignoring other different views and information. Only information with the same views as oneself can penetrate, exacerbating people’s information limitations. At the same time, the accuracy and fairness of the personalized recommendation algorithm may be affected by some deviations, which will bring algorithm deviations.

The section of Andrejevic’s book about the bias of automation indicates that bias in automated systems can come from incomplete or inaccurate data during data collection and processing, or from programmer or algorithm bias or ideology (Andrejevic, 2019). Some unfair and inaccurate situations may occur in the process of personalized recommendation. This kind of algorithm deviation may exacerbate the problem of information cocoons, making users only exposed to the content they already like, while ignoring other possible interesting content. At the same time, algorithmic bias may also cause discrimination or unfair treatment to certain user groups.

Politics: The Government’s Governance

From a political point of view, the national government has certain supervision and governance over Douyin. The government has content review technology for Douyin.

The government will use AI and algorithm technology to monitor and screen content on Douyin, and mark and delete content that does not meet relevant regulations.

The Chinese government has supervised and governed Douyin to a certain extent, including data security, protection of user rights and interests, and filtering of illegal content. The government requires Douyin to strictly protect user data, abide by relevant laws and regulations, and prevent data leakage and abuse. Protect the rights and interests of users, such as strictly implementing the law on the protection of minors to prevent minors from indulging in the Internet. And filter and delete illegal content, such as obscenity, violence and terror, and content involving politically sensitive topics. To protect user privacy and security, maintain social stability, and at the same time promote industrial development.

There are also some problems in the government’s supervision and governance of Douyin. The government may abuse its power to interfere and control for political purposes, threatening the freedom and privacy of Douyin and users. As Flew mentioned that the Internet in China is highly censored for both domestic and foreign voices. It emerged in an authoritarian one-party state, where control of the media and information flow has long been seen as crucial to the leadership and legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the country’s sovereign governing body (Flew, 2021). Therefore, in the government’s governance of the Douyin platform, many contents or comments that violate “national friendship and health” will be deleted and given a warning. Although this behavior is a kind of “positive” governance of the country and public opinion to a certain extent, it prevents other voices from appearing. Let citizens lose their right to free speech.

Douyin uses technologies to bring the outputs in different dimensions, which will shape our lives to varying degrees. This shaping has certain advantages, including providing users with a new way of entertainment and enriching people’s leisure time. Through big data and algorithms, users can be provided with personalized content recommendations to meet the needs and interests of different users and improve user experience. But at the same time, it also has great disadvantages, which can make people overly dependent, which leads to time wastage and spiritual dependence, which affects personal productivity and self-development. Under the influence of the recommendation algorithms, users may become overly addicted to certain content, fall into an information cocoon, and lack diversified perspectives.

Furthermore, might result in the revealing of user privacy and may be subject to unnecessary harassment and influence.

TED Talks: How algorithms shape our world.
Source: TED Talks, 2011.

According to Kevin Slavin, our environment is built for algorithms and is being taken over by them more and more. We are writing code that we cannot understand and may be out of control, he claimed in his TED address (Salvin, 2011). As he mentioned, these advanced technological means are more and more involved in our lives. Many times, we are unknowingly shaped by them, which may be choices, decisions, culture, opinions and so on. These seemingly insignificant things will one day turn into major events that change mankind. Technology is created by humans, it should serve humans, and should not shape or affect any human decisions. Since the development of human civilization, things should not be controlled by the things developed by human beings. There should be a balanced scale for their use and governance. Make good use of their advantages and let them serve humans better instead of being controlled by them.

In addition to Douyin, there are many platforms that have the same problem, and they all need to govern AI, Automation, Algorithms and Datafication from the aspects of user data security and privacy protection, comprehensiveness of personalized push content, and content review and supervision. By formulating norms, establishing mechanisms, strengthening supervision, etc., to ensure the fairness, legality, transparency and controllability of technology and algorithms, and then promote the sustainable development of the platform and the harmony and stability of the society.


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