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Thursday, August 1, 2019

Public Debate and Search Engine Politics


As G.K. Chesterton noted in his book Heretics, the more people debate in a public forum the more firmly entrenched beliefs become. He wrote, "Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them their limits and their plain and defiant shape." (Read the full quotation here.)

Algorithms add to the dynamic shaping of political bias in society. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter stated that within the Twitter organization, “We have folks that are at various points in the political spectrum and they don’t feel comfortable today bringing up certain issues or their viewpoints on certain issues. And I don’t believe that is acceptable.”

Despite his efforts to create an inclusive environment at Twitter’s headquarters, Twitter’s behavior on the internet appears to favor Democrats and liberals. Dorsey admitted that there is a “left-leaning bias” among Twitter employees, but he maintains that this liberal bias does not translate to the algorithm Twitter uses to return search queries.

A recent Harvard University study showed that Google’s search results do have a bias towards Democrats. (Read more here.)

There are growing concerns about the fairness of computer programs in shaping public opinion and political bias. A 2018 survey of the Pew Research Center found that age and ethnicity were factors in how people view the fairness of social media.

The survey also found that people believe that "humans are complex, and these systems are incapable of capturing nuance. This is a relatively consistent theme, mentioned across several of these concepts as something about which people worry when they consider these scenarios. This concern is especially prominent among those who find the use of criminal risk scores unacceptable. Roughly half of these respondents mention concerns related to the fact that all individuals are different, or that a system such as this leaves no room for personal growth or development."

Automated decision making uses automated reasoning to aid or replace human decision-making, and this has been discussed at conferences and policy meetings around the globe. These conversations have revealed that there are "no ethical or legal frameworks comprehensively describing personal responsibility for the tools’ application, safety of their implementation or the rights and obligations of the states and citizens in this regard."

This report states that "none of the researched countries established a coordinating body responsible for monitoring automated decision making implementation, including the creation of tools and their performance."

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