Traffic media: How algorithmic imaginations and practices change content production

All Abstracts > Traffic media: How algorithmic imaginations and practices change content production 

Traffic media: How algorithmic imaginations and practices change content production 

Authors | Affiliation:
Weiyu Zhang | National University of Singapore ; Zhuo Chen | National University of Singapore ; Yipeng Xi | National University of Singapore

Presenting at:
Panel 3D | Algorithmic imagination of social media


Taking on Latour’s actor network theory, this study examined independent content providers’ algorithmic imaginations and related practices by situating them in the interaction network in relation to other actors, including algorithms/platforms, peers, and legacy media practitioners. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 16 informants and both deductive thematic and open coding were employed. The findings unveil the political and economic underpinnings of their imaginations. Briefly put, independent content providers share a normative expectation that algorithms should promote high-quality content, though they are usually disappointed. To them, algorithms function as a classifying and disciplining mechanism, exerting power through the distribution of traffics, which they may choose to play with or to take advantage of, using individual or collective tactics. The relationships between their imaginations and agency as well as the implications of the elephant in the room—state power—are also discussed, through the contrast to legacy media professionals. In an era of traffic media, content production goes beyond making news or providing entertainment. As long as the content can attract user attention, or bring traffic, the platforms reward the providers of such content, regardless of their current status in the established media industry. This seems to open doors to independent content providers who can make their fame or even fortune overnight. Our academic investigation shows that the precarious position of independent content providers is rooted in such an imagination of the algorithm and the compliant practice to please the algorithm. However, let us not forget that platforms do not produce content and they cannot survive without the thousands of content providers. The potential resistance from independent content providers is not only to play against the algorithm but also to stop playing the algorithm game

About the authors

Weiyu Zhang


Weiyu Zhang is Associate Professor, Zhuo Chen and Yipeng Xi are PhD candidates, all of whom from Department of Communications and New Media at the National University of Singapore. The first author’s research focuses on civic engagement and ICTs, with an emphasis on Asia. She is the author of the book “The Internet and New Social Formation in China: Fandom Publics in the Making”. Her current project is to develop and examine an online platform for citizen deliberation. Correspondence should be addressed to the first author, at

%d bloggers like this: