In April of 2021 the FTC published a blog post saying bias in algorithms is against the law:
Section 5 of the FTC Act. The FTC Act prohibits unfair or deceptive practices. That would include the sale or use of – for example – racially biased algorithms.
A month later, Twitter deleted an undeniably biased algorithm that had been exposed by outsiders.
Twitter then tried to push a PR campaign that their colossal failures of ethics were some kind of success.
In October 2020, we heard feedback from people on Twitter that our image cropping algorithm didn’t serve all people equitably. […] One of our conclusions is that not everything on Twitter is a good candidate for an algorithm… thank you for sharing your open feedback and criticism of this algorithm with us.
In other words, in a formal internal investigation the product was deemed not only undeniably biased and causing harm, it was unnecessary.
That’s a different tone from the 2018 promotion of the algorithm by a research team lacking even basic bias analysis. The Twitter research team at that time (Lucas Theis, Iryna Korshunova, Alykhan Tejani, Ferenc Huszár) had only this to say:
Speeding up single-image gaze prediction is important for many real-world applications…
Why was speeding up gaze prediction important? Seems like a weird thing to say, sort of like saying speeding up hate crimes is important. Too harsh? What if I said speeding up cars brings up the issue of slowing them down to prevent serious injury?
So why didn’t a 2018 Twitter team discuss even the most basic risk of harms from their plan to speed something up that causes injury? To save time, let me just say their portraits may have a clue.
Time and convenience are very dangerous to chase without deep analysis of context not to mention having compassion for the subjects. Did any of these researchers care about harm?
The Twitter “fix” report thus reads to me like a bank saying they had been caught stealing money they didn’t even need… so they no longer will steal in that one method.
That’s it? Did Lucas Theis say something like “I made you a land mine to speed things up, I didn’t tell you to bury it in the ground so don’t blame me” before running away from Twitter’s investigation to work at Google instead (which soon after fired its ethics team)?
Imagine a bank. Would they be rated as ready for public trust if you read such a report from them? What if it included a line like the following one?
…fined a combined total $185 million for fraudulent activity, and CEO John Stumpf resigned. Between 2011 and 2016, approximately 5,300 employees were fired.
Was Twitter fined? Who resigned? Who was fired?
Don’t pop your champagne just yet. On that note, let’s talk about American history for a minute.
Twitter management actively may have just been caught red handed serving as a harmful white supremacist propaganda platform, such as “How the White Press Wrote Off Black America”
The white press in the South dictated how anti-Black atrocities were viewed all over the country by portraying even the most grotesque exercises of violence as necessary to protect a besieged white community. White news organizations elsewhere rubber-stamped this lie. The editors of small, struggling Black publications often risked their lives to refute what they rightly saw as white supremacist propaganda masquerading as news.
Do you know what saves time? Rubber stamping lies.
The big question perhaps becomes whether the white press in America was breaking the law. And what if the “rubber-stamped lies” are followed up with a report from management saying they found their own time-saving practices biased and unnecessary? Is management off the hook?
It is less clear cut than 1830s phase of American “cancel culture” where anyone daring to publish the truths about systemic racism instead would be hunted and killed by angry white nationalist mobs. I guess we could say at least today we don’t see Twitter murdering anyone criticizing their racism, but that’s an extremely low bar.
The tone of Twitter management still makes me wonder if their HQ is in a suburb of Chicago, if you know what I mean. I’ve been pointing out their systemic racism for nearly a decade now… as there has been ample evidence of their management facilitating fascism and tyranny, even purposefully coddling white nationalism (enabling the mobs that would murder their critics).
Don’t take my expert opinion about it however, It has gotten so bad that the SPLC now officially reports it too:
Twitter gave far-right extremists the platform they needed to plan an attack… many Twitter employees are ‘well-meaning,’ and do not necessarily subscribe to the same … ideology as the company’s leadership…
In other words, well-meaning staff are being described as the powerless exception to documented evil leaders at Twitter facilitating harms.
And if someone like the FTC isn’t holding leaders accountable, making it illegal to be so evil, internal Twitter investigations that simply acknowledge alleged criminal behavior and then stop it serve mostly to “whitewash” the problem and delay real accountability.