Most of us expect computers and the programs that run them to be objective, without human biases on race or gender. They’re machines after all – how could they be biased? But the programs, algorithms, and devices that have become inseparable from our lives are created by people; human biases – unconscious or otherwise – can find their way into the very code we trust to be objective. Steve delved into this topic in his review of Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech by Sara Wachter-Boettcher. Many of these biases cannot be solely addressed by hiring more women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) programmers and developers.
As we rely more and more on technology for making decisions from job applications to health care to criminal justice, these ingrained biases can have severe impacts on those groups who don’t fit into tech’s standard view of people (primarily white men). Here are just a few articles detailing recent examples of bias in technology, from Artificial Intelligence to social media:
- The Race Problem with Artificial Intelligence (Metro, 2020) – An excellent overview of how racism can be embedded in AI and its effects on society (focused on the UK, but applicable worldwide)
- Machine Bias (ProPublica, 2016) – An in-depth report of bias in software predicting criminality
- Google Has a Striking History of Bias Against Black Girls (Time, 2018) – Excerpt from Safiya Umoja Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression, focusing on bias in Google’s search results
- Millions of black people affected by racial bias in health-care algorithms (Nature, 2019) – Overview of a study revealing how racial bias in algorithms can influence health care decisions and treatments
- Yes, artificial intelligence can be racist (Vox, 2019) – Examines and supports Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s claim that AI can be biased with a number of studies
- Google apologies after its Vision AI produced racist results (Algorithm Watch, 2020) – Documents instances of AI incorrectly labeling images with darker skin as violent
- Facebook ignored racial bias research, employees say (NBC News, 2020) – Employees at Facebook discovered significant bias in Instagram’s account removal algorithm – and were ignored
- Instagram’s CEO says the platform is examining how its policies affect black users (The Verge, 2020) – Instagram is beginning to examine how policies have negatively affected Black users, including algorithmic bias
Combating bias and promoting diversity in tech is not a quick or easy process. But there is one area over which you have some control – your own social media feed. Following BIPOC creators on social media is another avenue to educate yourself and support creators impacted by technology’s own biases.
Your social media feed – whether on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or others – is influenced by algorithms, a set of instructions executed by a computer that choose what content to show. Social media algorithms can create your own personal echo chamber; if you are only interacting with white creators who have the same opinions as you, your social media platform of choice will prioritize that content over anything else that exists on the site. As linked above, Instagram recently admitted that its policies have had a negative effect on Black creators, including “shadowbanning” or limiting the reach of posts by Black users, as well as algorithmic bias. These policies also affect LGBTQ+ and body positive users, among other marginalized groups.
Ultimately, the work of diversifying your social media feed is up to you. To break out of your social media echo chamber, you must seek out and follow BIPOC users in order to see their content and make the algorithm work for diversity rather than against it.
Not sure where to start? Check out lists of Black accounts to follow, including this one from InsideHook. Many prominent influencers and celebrities have been highlighting Black voices in their field through account takeovers and the hashtag #sharethemicnow on both Instagram and Twitter. You can also explore the hashtags #diversifyyourfeed and #amplifyblackvoices and continually seek out BIPOC creators within your interests, such as a few of my new favorites: interior designer Shavonda Gardner, wedding photographer and anti-racism educator Celisia Stanton, and amazing quilter Bisa Butler.
Remember that likes are vital for teaching the algorithm what you want to see, as Alyse mentioned in this blog post. Like, comment (politely and positively, without asking for more free education/labor!) and share content from BIPOC creators. If you are financially able, consider supporting them through buying their work (books, art, etc.), making one-time donations via Kofi, PayPal and other platforms, or becoming a monthly patron via Patreon. If BIPOC users raise issues of inequality or bias, such as being blocked from using their own hashtags, being shadowbanned or harassed online, support them by calling out and reporting these issues to the social media platform.