Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Headline Writer!

You may recall Elton John’s album “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player.” That’s what I thought piano-1589154_1280of when I heard about Facebook’s move to lessen the role of people in Trending topics.

As reported in the Washington Post: “Facebook just greatly diminished the role that human beings will play in the platform’s Trending topics bar, announcing … that actual people will no longer write topic descriptions for the site.  [This] comes months after the company faced an unusually high level of scrutiny for alleged political bias in its Trending feature. Humans will serve a janitorial role in the process, while the algorithms take more control.”

It is an interesting state of affairs when algorithms are deemed to be more unbiased than people – and we are serving the machine in a “janitorial role” (of course, Facebook did not come out and say this as I have – another article attributed the change to the need for scalability).

It seems clear, however that they are still smarting from the bias accusations. Perhaps Facebook’s trying to counter this by giving machines, which we think of as logical, more of a role.

There was a great article in Time magazine about the danger of placing too much trust in algorithms. Rana Foroohar wrote about Cathy O’Neil’s new book Weapons of Math Destruction, which highlights the growing role of algorithms in everything from job performance evaluations, to grading teachers, credit decisions, etc.  They determine which ads we see, and increasingly point us to (and describe) news topics.

Rana writes:

“The Big Data algorithms that sort us into piles of “worthy” and “unworthy” are mostly opaque and unregulated, not to mention generated (and used) by large multinational firms with huge lobbying power to keep it that way.”



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