Netflix Algorithm Defaults To “White” Content, Sweeps Diversity Under the Rug
April 1, 2016
The article Marie Claire titled Blackflix; How Netflix’s Algorithm Exposes Technology’s Racial Bias, delves into the racial ramifications of Netflix’s much-lauded content recommendation algorithm. Many users may have had strange realizations about themselves or their preferences due to collisions with the system that the article calls “uncannily spot-on.” To sum it up: Netflix is really good at showing us what we want to watch, but only based on what we have already watched. When it comes to race, sexuality, even feminism (how many movies have I watched in the category “Movies With a Strong Female Lead?”), Netflix stays on course by only showing you similarly diverse films to what you have already selected. The article states,
“Or perhaps I could see the underlying problem, not in what we’re being shown, but in what we’re not being shown. I could see the fact that it’s not until you express specific interest in “black” content that you see how much of it Netflix has to offer. I could see the fact that to the new viewer, whose preferences aren’t yet logged and tracked by Netflix’s algorithm, “black” movies and shows are, for the most part, hidden from view.”
This sort of “default” suggests quite a lot about what Netflix has decided to put forward as normal or inoffensive content. To be fair, they do stress the importance of logging preferences from the initial sign up, but there is something annoying about the idea that there are people who can live in a bubble of straight, white, (or black and white) content. There are among those people some who might really enjoy and appreciate a powerful and relevant film like Fruitvale Station. If it wants to stay current, Netflix needs to show more appreciation or even awareness of its technical bias.
Chelsea Kerwin, April 1, 2016