“In a world where few would deny the existence of racism but even fewer would ever admit to propagating it, there will always be the problem of agency. We have racism but no racists – a noun without a subject, a consequence that nobody caused, a system that nobody operates creating victims without perpetrators. ”
Can Your Computer’s Search Algorithm Be Racist?
The Ford Foundation has focused its mission on eradicating and education in various fields on inequality. This January I will teach my first course on social inequality during the Winter Intercession. This is exciting and challenging; to find a way to link my current research interests in the unintended consequences of the “new digital divide” in social networking sites and on the web relative to marginalized youth, particularly in my study of black girls’ expressive culture on YouTube.
One of the earliest questions I had was how twerking videos might affect the social capital and digital net worth of the reputations of black girls into their adulthood. My research collecting data from YouTube videos reveals many unintended consequences and some are set in motion by the very act of a YouTube search and its complex and personalized algorithms. Search “girls” vs. “black girls” or “girl’s hair” vs. “black girl’s hair” or “twerking” vs. “black girls twerking” or “ratchet girls twerking” and the results reveal a great deal of bias–intersectional biases of race, class, sex, gender, sexuality and age.
Here in this short video by Professor Latanya Sweeney, head of the Data Privacy Lab at Harvard, shares how she began to study the cyber racism of technology and its unintended consequences even for a Harvard professor. More research and critical digital media literacy education is needed in this domain for marginalized people and groups. Trying to figure out what my work might provide here. I believe music consumption and participatory culture on YouTube by marginalized girls, especially online black girls, may have affordances for legacy media and YouTube but costs girls their future adulthood not unlike the example of what happened to Sweeney when she discovered a problem with her given name “Latanya.”
“If an employer searched the name of a prospective hire, only to be confronted with ads suggesting that the person had a prior arrest, you can imagine how that could affect the applicant’s career prospects.”
Read more about this on the Ford Foundation website from the Equals Change blog. The post was written by Michael Brennan, Technology Program Officer for Internet Freedom (15 Nov 2015).
Can computers be racist?
Big data, inequality, and discrimination