Western in Western Out

July 26, 2017

A thoughtful piece at Quartz looks past filter bubbles to other ways mostly Western developers are gradually imposing their cultural perspectives on the rest of the world—“Silicon Valley Has Designed Algorithms to Reflect Your Biases, Not Disrupt Them.” Search will not get you objective information, but rather the content your behavior warrants. Writer Ramesh Srinivasan introduces his argument:

Silicon Valley dominates the internet—and that prevents us from learning more deeply about other people, cultures, and places. To support richer understandings of one another across our differences, we need to redesign social media networks and search systems to better represent diverse cultural and political perspectives. The most prominent and globally used social media networks and search engines— Facebook and Google—are produced and shaped by engineers from corporations based in Europe and North America. As a result, technologies used by nearly 2 billion people worldwide reflect the design perspectives of the limited few from the West who have power over how these systems are developed.

It is worth reading the whole article for its examination of the issue, and suggestions for what to do about it. Algorithm transparency, for example, would at least let users know what principles guide a platform’s  content selections. Taking input from user communities in other cultures is another idea. My favorite is a proposal to prioritize firsthand sources over Western interpretations, even ones with low traffic or that are not in English. As Srinivasan writes:

Just because this option may be the easiest for me to understand doesn’t mean that it should be the perspective I am offered.

That sums up the issue nicely.

Cynthia Murrell, July 26, 2017


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