Reactionary Reporting on Technology

This is a long delayed post meant to be posted last week. My apologies.

At a Martin Luther King Jr Day event, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (rep. D-NY), explained some of the questions we’ve worked with last week’s readings and this week’s as well. Algorithms, and technology in general, is designed by humans. Humans are biased and there is a history of replicating those biases into technology. There are many examples in many fields of biased data fed to algorithms that produce discriminatory results.

The first reports of her comments were clearly sensationalist and inaccurate. One headline said “Ocasio-Cortez says algorithms, a math concept, are racist”. It made me think of the topic we’ve discussed in class of how is media reporting and talking about technology. Media are either repeating or paraphrasing press releases from tech companies without a critical analysis, or the people reporting on technology don’t take the time to dig deeper into the technologies to understand how they work and what are the real concerns beyond sci-fi sensationalism.

Looking at that headline, it is clear that the representative’s comments are not exactly what the headline says, but that is a whole other issue that is separate from the social issue surrounding the technology she’s describing. A week after the comments, we can find more in-depth reporting explaining the different ways in which her statements are accurate, citing experts in the field, and providing examples of peer-reviewed studies that have addressed these issues for a long time.

Therefore, it might seem that there are two types of reporting about technology. First, an immediate reactionary over simplification of a technology in order to create an emotion (positive or negative) in order to get user engagement quickly; this kind of reporting is the one most prone to inaccuracy and misconceptions. The second one, is usually done by people that have a deeper understanding of the technology and take the time to research and provide proof and examples for a more broad and critical take on the issue. However, the second one usually appears as a reaction of the first one, or the first one has a wider reach to the public, which makes it difficult for more in-depth reporting to navigate its way through all the rhetoric garbage to the user.