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Twitter Favors Faces of the Young, Slim, and Light Skinned

The Guardian (external link) reported yesterday that a photo algorithm within Twitter favors lighter, slimmer, and younger faces. This confirms what I wrote yesterday (internal link) that the view of beauty in the West has never changed.

Twitter came under criticism in 2020 when users noticed that its photo algorithm “[S]eemed to regularly focus on white faces over those of black people – and even on white dogs over black ones. ”

An embarassed Twitter thereupon changed its algorithm and set up a reward for anyone who could prove that the new mechanism was still biased.

The company reported at Def Con (internal link) that it still is. Bogdan Kulynych successfully demonstrated how the algorithm remains flawed and was thus awarded by Twitter a $3,500 “bugs bounty.”

Rumman Chowdhury heads Twitter’s AI ethics team, if you believe that such a thing exists, and spouted defensive comments like this at Def Con:

“I use the phrase ‘life imitating art imitating life’. We create these filters because we think that’s what ‘beautiful’ is, and that ends up training our models and driving these unrealistic notions of what it means to be attractive.”

Hmm. I’ll have to think that over.

Kulynch, though, isn’t fooled about what has been driving this algorithm. It’s about money. After all, what is the purpose of any internet technology?  To get you to click on an ad! Tim Cook, Sergey Brin, Zuckerberg, Bezos, and all the others are the hucksters and the ad men of the 1950s with new tools. That’s all they are!

As Kulynych puts it in true stilted hacker fashion, “Algorithmic harms are not only ‘bugs’. Crucially, a lot of harmful tech is harmful not because of accidents, unintended mistakes, but rather by design. This comes from maximisation of engagement and, in general, profit externalising the costs to others. As an example, amplifying gentrification, driving down wages, spreading clickbait and misinformation are not necessarily due to ‘biased’ algorithms.”

Indeed. Everybody knows what the view of beauty is in the West. (internal link) We just lie about it. Especially corporations that claim to be inclusive to all groups. Instead, ad money wants lighter skinned faces, slender faces, and younger faces. Surprise!

The image below is part of Kulynych’s research. (external link) All these people are in fact artificial and do not exist.




Extra: Why ignore the old? A forty-five to fifty year old is at the top of their earning power. But the old have already made their brand choices. No need to waste ad dollars on them. The young, though, represent a more open market. Yes, they may be scrounging spare change from underneath a car seat to pay for this morning’s coffee. But at this age they may also be making a brand decision which they will follow for the rest of their life.

By thomasfarley01

Business writer and graphic arts gadfly.

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