Facebook’s Success Was Built on Algorithms. Can They Also Fix It?


    Experts tell CNN that Facebook’s algorithms could be improved. “It will, however, require something Facebook has so far appeared reluctant to offer (despite executive talking points): more transparency and control for users.” Margaret Mitchell, who leads artificial intelligence ethics for AI model builder Hugging Face and formerly co-led Google’s ethical AI team, thinks this could be done by allowing you to view details about why you’re seeing what you’re seeing on a social network, such as in response to the posts, ads, and other things you look at and interact with. “You can even imagine having some say in it. You might be able to select preferences for the kinds of things you want to be optimized for you,” she said, such as how often you want to see content from your immediate family, high school friends, or baby pictures. All of those things may change over time. Why not let users control them? Transparency is key, she said, because it incentivizes good behavior from the social networks. Another way social networks could be pushed in the direction of increased transparency is by increasing independent auditing of their algorithmic practices, according to Sasha Costanza-Chock, director of research and design at the Algorithmic Justice League. They envision this as including fully independent researchers, investigative journalists, or people inside regulatory bodies — not social media companies themselves, or companies they hire — who have the knowledge, skills, and legal authority to demand access to algorithmic systems in order to ensure laws aren’t violated and best practices are followed. James Mickens, a computer science professor at Harvard and co-director of the Berkman Klein Center’s Institute for Rebooting Social Media, suggests looking to the ways elections can be audited without revealing private information about voters (such as who each person voted for) for insights about how algorithms may be audited and reformed. He thinks that could give some insights for building an audit system that would allow people outside of Facebook to provide oversight while protecting sensitive data. A big hurdle, experts say, to making meaningful improvements is social networks’ current focus on the importance of engagement, or the amount of time users spend scrolling, clicking, and otherwise interacting with social media posts and ads… Changing this is tricky, experts said, though several agreed that it may involve considering the feelings users have when using social media and not just the amount of time they spend using it. “Engagement is not a synonym for good mental health,” said Mickens. Read more of this story at Slashdot.


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