An investigation reveals that Instagram prioritizes photos of low-clothes users

Technologies

By CAPosts 29 June, 2020 - 12:02pm 33 views

According to research, Instagram favors posts from low-clothes users (March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)

According to an investigation by the European Data Journalism Network EDJNet and AlgorithmWatch, Instagram (owned by Facebook) prioritizes photos of men and women with little clothing within its platform.

To reach this conclusion, 2,400 photos from users in the European Union were analysed, where there are an estimated 140 million users of Instagram (i.e. one in three have an account on that platform).

The researchers asked 26 volunteers to install an add-on in the browser and follow a group of professional content creators. 37 professionals from 12 countries (14 of them men) were selected who use Instagram to advertise brands or acquire new customers for their businesses, mainly in the food, travel, fitness, fashion or beauty sectors.

The add-on used automatically opens the Instagram homepage at regular intervals and records which posts appear at the top of the volunteer news feed, to get a glimpse into what the platforms consider most relevant to each user.

Onyth and May, 1,737 posts published by content creators were analyzed, containing 2,400 photos. 21% of these publications contained images showing women in bikinis or underwear, or men with bare torso. However, in the volunteer feed, posts with such images accounted for 30% of all posts displayed from those same accounts (some posts were shown more than once), as detailed in the studio.

Facebook dismissed the results of the study (EFE/EPA/SASCHA STEINBACH/File)

Posts containing images of women in underwear or bikinis were 54% more likely to appear on the volunteer feed. In turn, publications containing images of men with bare torso had a 28% more chance of being shown. In contrast, the posts with food images or landscapes were 60% less likely to appear in the news feed.

The study mentions that they only managed to document what was happening in the case of the volunteers who downloaded the add-on. They clarify that yours is not a thorough audit of the system because that's why they should have greater access to the system. "Without access to Facebook's internal data and production servers, it will always be impossible to draw definitive conclusions," the researchers oversevered.

The impossibility of comprehensive scrutiny is a problem that researchers sucind about when they want to analyze almost any platform, except those that disclose the source code of their algorithms, which are the only ones that can be analyzed publicly. In all other cases, there is no way to know exactly how algorithms work.

Another point to keep in mind is that Facebook, like other platforms, analyzes images by computer vision that makes inferences based on a set of data with which it was trained. Data can replicate and amplify biases. This problem has been pointed out in varied opportunities by computer researchers and not only alludes to Facebook but to so many other systems that employ ame-learning: how and with what data systems are nurtured is key to assessing the impact they have.

The social network prohibits the publication of nudes but, according to research, prioritizes photos where people are seen in their underwear or swimsuit.

Head noted that in Europe, since 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) , which recognizes and regulates many digital rights in favour of users. However, as regards transparency with regard to algorithms, the rule that refers to this subject is the Platform for Business Regulation (P2B), which will enter into force from 12 July 2020.

The GDPR states that users have the right to receive an explanation regarding automated decisions, and P2B regulation will require online intermediation services to disclose the "main parameters that determine classification (algorithmic)". Anyway this does not force Instagram to fully mention how its algorithm works.

"No authority, at European level or within the Member States, has the power or tools to audit digital platforms, including Instagram, which leaves many of the GDPR provisions unfilled," the statement is mentioned.

what did Facebook say about it

Regarding this report, from Facebook they said the following: "This investigation is wrong in several ways and shows a misunderstanding about how Instagram works. We rank posts in your feed based on the content and accounts you've shown interest in, not arbitrary factors such as the presence of swimsuits" .

They added, "We present interest-based publications, how timely posts are, and other factors to help people discover the content that's most relevant to them."

On the other hand, they questioned the sample analyzed. "The study looked at an extremely small sample size, which probably appeared in the type of content they were investigating: the more you interact with certain types of posts, the more likely we are to show you similar posts."

The investigators' arguments

Despite this, researchers claim that their findings are representative of how Instagram works. In this regard, they mention that in a paent published in 2015 Facebook engineers explained how the news feed could select which images to prioritize. When a user publishes an image, it is automatically analyzed at the moment. Images receive an interaction metric or engagement, which is used to decide whether or not to display an image in the user's newsfeed.

The interaction metric is based, in part, on the behavior that the user has shown in the past. If a user liked a specific brand and a photo shows a product of the same brand, that metric increases. But the interaction metric can also be calculated based on the past behavior of all users of the service. The patent states that the gender, ethnicity, and "state of nudity" of people in a photo could be used to calculate that metric.

While Instagram claims that the news feed is organized according to what a user "cares more about", the company's patent indicates that content could actually be classified according to what all users care about. Rete users or not see the images posted by the accounts they follow depends not only on their previous behavior, but also on what Instagram identifies to be more attractive to other users of the platform.

Sdddness is not allowed but is favored

The study posits that there is a contradiction on Instagram. While the social network states that nudity is not allowed on the platform, it favors publications where bodies with little clothing are displayed.

"The subtle difference between what is encouraged and what is prohibited is decided by unaudited and probably biased computer vision algorithms", the report is underlined.

An analysis of 238 patents filed by Facebook containing the phrase "computer vision" showed that of the 340 people listed as inventors, only 27 were women. "Male-dominated environments usually lead to results that are harmful to women," the report concludes.

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