Playing the visibility game: How digital influencers and algorithms negotiate influence on Instagram

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335 Scopus citations


Algorithms are said to affect social realities, often in unseen ways. This article explores conscious, instrumental interactions with algorithms, as a window into the complexities and extent of algorithmic power. Through a thematic analysis of online discussions among Instagram influencers, I observed that influencers’ pursuit of influence resembles a game constructed around “rules” encoded in algorithms. Within the “visibility game,” influencers’ interpretations of Instagram’s algorithmic architecture—and the “game” more broadly—act as a lens through which to view and mechanize the rules of the game. Illustrating this point, this article describes two prominent interpretations, which combine information influencers glean about Instagram’s algorithms with preexisting discourses within influencer communities on authenticity and entrepreneurship. This article shows how directing inquiries toward the visibility game makes present the interdependency between users, algorithms, and platform owners and demonstrates how algorithms structure, but do not unilaterally determine user behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)895-913
Number of pages19
JournalNew Media and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science


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