Over the past quarter century, great strides have been made in the field of developmental psychology. And, while these advancements have had tremendous education and learning benefits, this newfound knowledge has also had major consequences on how children perceive the world, particularly through the use of content recommendation algorithms. 1 Though public sentiment towards media has become increasingly negative, by and large content sorting algorithms have taken a backseat towards concerns whose effects are more easily seen such as self-esteem and social anxiety.2 This short opinion piece seeks to delve into the issues that exist with content recommendation algorithms. In addition, the piece will explore a new participatory design process to enable designers and engineers to create products and systems better optimized to serve the needs of children while guarding against the negative implications of algorithm-based recommendations.
The teams responsible for creating the algorithms that major content services, such as Netflix, Facebook, and Youtube, use largely fit within the standard confines of the capitalist economic model. It is under this economic model that drives capital profits over the needs of the individual users, in this case young children, that is the root of the problem. Without any clear economic incentives, it becomes increasingly hard to justify the design of content recommendation algorithms that serve the public good rather than generate the most profit. However, this is not to say that no solution exists. Most recently, content tools such as Apple Screentime have been introduced to encourage people to monitor the time spent on their phones. These tools have been introduced because of public pressure and sentiment, the ultimate driver of paradigm change. 3 Thus the question arises: how do we a shift in public sentiment that will help spur the introduction of tools like Apple Screentime within the domain of content recommendation algorithms. I believe that participatory design is one way to accomplish this goal.