Do social media algorithms erode our ability to make decisions freely? The jury is out

Social media algorithms, artificial intelligence, and our own genetics are among the factors influencing us beyond our awareness. This raises an ancient question: do we have control over our own lives? This article is part of The Conversation’s series on the science of free will.

Have you ever watched a video or movie because YouTube or Netflix recommended it to you? Or added a friend on Facebook from the list of “people you may know”?

And how does Twitter decide which tweets to show you at the top of your feed?

These platforms are driven by algorithms, which rank and recommend content for us based on our data.

As Woodrow Hartzog, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University, Boston, explains:

If you want to know when social media companies are trying to manipulate you into disclosing information or engaging more, the answer is always.


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Harris didn’t say Americans aren’t equipped to make their own decisions

The claim: Kamala Harris said Americans aren’t equipped to make decisions for themselves

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s debate, both vice presidential candidates’ words are being twisted online. A post on Facebook claims Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris have different perspectives on Americans’ capabilities.

The post attributes this quote to Pence: “Trump and I trust the American people to make choices for themselves and their families — Harris and Biden want to mandate how you care for yourself.”

And it attributes this quote to Harris: “The American people aren’t equipped to make these decisions for themselves.”

“If you ignore this entire debate… and focus on just one statement made by each candidate… it would be this one, because IT SPEAKS VOLUMES. The rest is just noise…” the post’s creator wrote. She did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.

More: Read the

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Emotions can mess up an investment plan. Beware of 6 irrational ways to make decisions

It’s hard to say if now is one of those calms before the storm. But at the least, it’s a period of relative calm after the coronavirus-induced stock market plunge in February and March and the robust rally that followed.

And that makes it a decent time to assess how you might have messed up your investments by selling hastily or taking other irrational actions.

“We’ve had a severe recent drop … that makes this stuff real important,” said Steve Wendel, head of the behavioral-science team at Morningstar that studies how emotions can derail investors.

If you work with a financial adviser, that person should be helping to guide your actions. Wendell spoke primarily to advisers during an online meeting this week hosted by Morningstar, but do-it-yourself investors also can learn from the discussion.

Are you financially stressed right now?What to know about options, from debt negotiation to bankruptcy

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More Twin Cities Private, Public Schools Make Decisions For Fall

MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL METRO, MN — The start of the 2020 school year is days away for many kids across the Twin Cities metro. Most schools — both public and private — have announced the education model they will use as the nation continues to battle the spread of coronavirus.

For public school districts, the recommended model of education per the Minnesota Department of Health — wether it’s distance learning, hybrid, or in-person — depends on how many coronavirus cases are reported in the county

While the statewide guidelines issue by Gov. Tim Walz earlier this summer don’t apply to private schools in Minnesota, many private school administrators are going through similar decision making processes as their peers in the public districts.

All schools that do open during the school year must follow public health guidelines on masks, social distancing, personal hygiene, screening, and cleaning practices.

Also read: How Coronavirus Affects

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The algorithms that make big decisions about your life

student protesting
student protesting

Thousands of students in England are angry about the controversial use of an algorithm to determine this year’s GCSE and A-level results.

They were unable to sit exams because of lockdown, so the algorithm used data about schools’ results in previous years to determine grades.

It meant about 40% of this year’s A-level results came out lower than predicted, which has a huge impact on what students are able to do next. GCSE results are due out on Thursday.

There are many examples of algorithms making big decisions about our lives, without us necessarily knowing how or when they do it.

Here’s a look at some of them.

Social media

In many ways, social-media platforms are simply giant algorithms.

Phone with Facebook logo in pocket
Phone with Facebook logo in pocket

At their heart, they work out what you’re interested in and then give you more of it – using as many data points

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More Twin Cities School Districts Make Decisions For Fall: LIST

MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL METRO, MN — It’s been more than a week since Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health released parameters they want schools to meet before fully reopening, and more schools have made decisions about what this fall will look like for students and staff.

Minnesota’s “back to school” season is going to be unlike any other year, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The recommended model of education — distance learning, hybrid, or in-person — depends on how many coronavirus cases are reported in the county.

However, the ultimate decision of how to reopen school this fall is being left up to the school districts themselves.

Several school districts in the Twin Cities metro have already announced their “education model” decision for this fall, while others are planning to do so later this month:

Note: All school districts in Minnesota are required to offer an online-only

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Online school? In-person? How parents are making their own fall 2020 decisions as COVID-19 squabbles continue

As officials play political football with K-12 school re-openings, parents such as Johanne Davis are formulating their own game plans for the fall.

“To exercise an abundance of caution, I’d like to keep my kids home with me where they’ll study online,” says Davis, a mother of three from Indian Land, South Carolina, one of countless states where COVID-19 cases have spiked in recent weeks.

“Health is the issue, not just for my children, but also school workers,” says Davis. “Teachers shouldn’t have to be frontline soldiers in this pandemic.”

Families across the nation are busy making their own calculations about whether to send children back to school. While Davis seems resolved, many parents are still mulling.

Johanne Davis, left, in a photo with her three children. Davis and her husband say they're both fortunate enough to work from home and can manage the children if they have to spend a lot of next year studying remotely. But she acknowledges that hers is a privileged position not afforded to lower-income parents grappling with child care in order to go off to work.
Johanne Davis, left, in a photo with her three children. Davis and her husband say they’re both fortunate enough to work from home and can manage the children if they have to spend
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This demographic tends to rely on news to make money decisions

Older Americans are putting overwhelming faith in news to inform their financial decisions as compared to the younger generation, according to the first installment of the new Yahoo Finance-Harris poll.

Eighty-one percent of people ages 55 years and older say their money and investment decisions are influenced by the coverage of current events. Only 25% of people between 18 and 34 years old use the news as an information source for their financial decisions.

Shocked frustrated senior mature man taking off glasses to look at laptop reading shocking online news at home, stressed worried middle aged old male confused by bad email news or computer problem

The results stem from a poll of 2,033 respondents, conducted from June 15 to 17. Yahoo Finance has teamed up with Harris to produce monthly insights on consumer and workplace trends

Fifty-five percent of U.S. adults get their news from social media, according

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