r/technology – Twitter admits its image algorithm was racist


[1]

Twitter is to largely abandon an algorithm it uses to crop images after its own research showed the system was biased in favour of presenting white people over black people.

The algorithm had been used by Twitter since 2018 to crop the images that people see when scrolling through their timeline and was designed to improve the consistency in the size of photos people see at a glance. The full image was then shown when someone clicked on the tweet.

The AI tool worked by estimating what a person might want to see first within a picture, having been trained on how the human eye looks at a picture. It would then crop the preview picture to focus on that section.

However, many users had complained that the tool seemed to have a preference towards cropping out black people over white people, regardless of how the picture was presented.

In a viral Twitter thread last year, the American software engineer Tony Arcieri showed that whichever way he presented a picture of the former US president Barack Obama and the former US Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, the cropping tool would always just show McConnell, who is white. This applied if Obama was placed at the top of an image and McConnell at the bottom and vice versa.

At the time Twitter said that it had tested its cropping tool for bias before releasing it to the public and had not found any evidence of this.

However, in a blog post last night, Twitter said it has now concluded that the algorithm is biased. Rumman Chowdhury, a software engineering director for Twitter’s machine learning ethics, transparency and accountability team, said the tests showed that the cropping system had a 4 per cent difference in favour of white people.


[1]

Twitter is to largely abandon an algorithm it uses to crop images after its own research showed the system was biased in favour of presenting white people over black people.

The algorithm had been used by Twitter since 2018 to crop the images that people see when scrolling through their timeline and was designed to improve the consistency in the size of photos people see at a glance. The full image was then shown when someone clicked on the tweet.

The AI tool worked by estimating what a person might want to see first within a picture, having been trained on how the human eye looks at a picture. It would then crop the preview picture to focus on that section.

However, many users had complained that the tool seemed to have a preference towards cropping out black people over white people, regardless of how the picture was presented.

In a viral Twitter thread last year, the American software engineer Tony Arcieri showed that whichever way he presented a picture of the former US president Barack Obama and the former US Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, the cropping tool would always just show McConnell, who is white. This applied if Obama was placed at the top of an image and McConnell at the bottom and vice versa.

At the time Twitter said that it had tested its cropping tool for bias before releasing it to the public and had not found any evidence of this.

However, in a blog post last night, Twitter said it has now concluded that the algorithm is biased. Rumman Chowdhury, a software engineering director for Twitter’s machine learning ethics, transparency and accountability team, said the tests showed that the cropping system had a 4 per cent difference in favour of white people.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *