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The social network’s platform may be unintentionally foregrounding white people over those of colour.

This week Twitter announced that it will begin an extensive study its machine learning algorithms. The purpose of the study is to determine whether they cause unintentional harm. Specifically, they will try to understand if there is racial or gender bias.

Last year the company was criticized for racial bias. It seemed that its image-cropping algorithm chose white faces over black faces. At the time, Twitter responded saying that it had tested its system for bias and found none. However, the social media giant admitted that further testing needed to be done.

In fact, users’ experiments with the algorithm later seemed to show more absences of darker-skinned people. “It’s clear from these examples that we’ve got more analysis to do,” the company said in response.

Twitter’s algorithm has also been accused of sexual bias, i.e., favoring the posts of men over those of women.

Unveiling Twitter’s “Responsible Machine Learning Initiative”

The snowballing criticism culminated in a blog post this week from Twitter’s Jutta Williams and Rumman Chowdhury. In the post, they introduced the company’s Responsible Machine Learning Initiative. “Today, we want to share more about the work we’ve been doing to improve our ML algorithms within Twitter,” they announced.

They also sought to explain Twitter’s “path forward through a company-wide initiative called Responsible ML.”

Williams and Chowdhury wrote that to ensure fairness, Twitter will analyze the algorithms internally. They will employ engineers, researchers and data scientists across the company. These people, they say, will not just be experts on machine learning, but also dedicated to “ethics, transparency and accountability.”

The two execs also sought to manage expectations. “Responsible ML is a long journey in its early days,” they wrote. “We want to explore it with a spirit of openness with the goal of contributing positively to the field of technology ethics.”