Portrait of Tarleton Gillespie

Tarleton Gillespie

Principal Researcher


Tarleton Gillespie is Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research New England, the newest permanent member of the Social Media Collective, (joining danah boyd, Nancy Baym, Kate Crawford, and Mary Gray) Microsoft Research’s team of sociologists, anthropologists, and communication & media scholars studying the impact of information technology on social and political life. Tarleton also retains an adjunct Associate Professor position with Cornell University, where he has been on the faculty for over a decade.

Tarleton’s current work investigates how social media platforms and other algorithmic information systems shape public discourse. His forthcoming book (Yale University Press, exp. Spring 2018) examines how the content guidelines imposed by social media platforms set the terms for what counts as ‘appropriate’ user contributions, and ask how this private governance of cultural values has broader implications for freedom of expression and the character of public discourse. A second thread of his research examines how the algorithmic selection of information and culture has equally important consequences for public discourse. His essay “The Relevance of Algorithms” has been a key component in the recent emergence of a sociology of algorithms; his contributions focus on how algorithms embedded in social media and search engines are organizing information based on implicit and unexamined assumptions about popularity, relevance, and value – that have implications for how public discourse functions. This work is designed to develop a vocabulary for a society in which algorithmic information systems and social media platforms are more and more deeply interwoven into the lives of users and into the public institutions on which they depend.

Tarleton received his Ph.D. in Communication from the University of California, San Diego (2002); he also has a M.A. in Communication from UCSD (1997) and a B.A. with honors in English from Amherst College (1994). In 2011-12 he was awarded funding from the European Institutes for Advanced Study (EURIAS) to be a Residential Research Fellow at the Collegium de Lyon, at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France.