Tech UPTechnologyThis is the social network that is involved in...

This is the social network that is involved in the controversy due to the discrimination of its algorithm

Tumblr and the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) have resolved allegations of discrimination related to the company’s 2018 ban on adult content, which city lawmakers say disproportionately affected teens. LGBTQ users. The settlement requires Tumblr to review its user appeals process and train its human moderators on diversity and inclusion issues, as well as review thousands of old cases and hire an expert to look for possible bias in its moderation algorithms.

Discrimination cases

The agreement, which did not involve a formal legal complaint and was signed last month, marks one of the first times lawmakers have reached an agreement to change a social network’s moderation policies based on issues of algorithmic bias. It resolves an investigation that CCHR launched in December 2018, shortly after Tumblr banned sexually explicit content and nudity, and enforced its rules with a comically inaccurate automated takedown system.

The deal gives Tumblr 180 days to hire an expert on sexual orientation and gender identity issues and provide related training to moderators. You should also hire someone with experience in this area, as well as image classification, who will review Tumblr’s moderation algorithms to see if they are more likely to flag LGBTQ content. As part of an overall review, Tumblr will re-examine 3,000 past cases in which a user successfully appealed a takedown, looking for patterns that might indicate bias.

The deal appears to have happened in large part because of owner Automattic, which acquired Tumblr from Verizon in 2019 and apparently cooperated closely with the CCHR. Automattic had revised the original system to add more human oversight even before the deal. Under his ownership, Tumblr has also tried to reconcile with LGBTQ users who left as part of a larger community exodus.

Tumblr will have to rectify

The Tumblr deal could be a first step in a broader national regulatory move. Accusations of bias against social media platforms have rarely succeeded in court, and the settlement appears to be bolstered by Automattic’s desire to review Tumblr’s moderation and restore trust with the LGBTQ community. The CCHR has not provided details on the evidence supporting its claims of discrimination, making it difficult to assess the specifics of that case. But much larger platforms like YouTube and Instagram have also faced accusations of discriminatory moderation without regulatory action, and YouTube, in particular, has won two lawsuits from LGBTQ and black video creators who alleged algorithmic discrimination.

However, the broader issue of algorithmic race and gender bias has become a growing priority for lawmakers, particularly where it could affect people’s housing and employment options. And even without legal complaints, some companies like Twitter have overhauled their moderation algorithms under public pressure, sometimes making worrying discoveries in the process.


New York City Commission on Human Rights (report) / Tumblr (press release)

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