Technology

Twitter boss Jack Dorsey admits algorithms unfairly filtered 600,000 accounts

The chief executive told a hearing that some of the accounts also belonged to members of Congress.

Twitter’s systems unfairly filtered 600,000 accounts including some belonging to members of Congress, chief executive Jack Dorsey has admitted.

Mr Dorsey made the admission during his opening statement on Wednesday to the US House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is looking into the social network’s algorithms and content monitoring.

The Twitter boss said the company’s algorithms were to blame for hiding some members from its auto-complete search and latest results, but had since fixed the issue.

“In the spirit of accountability and transparency: recently we failed our intended impartiality,” Mr Dorsey said.

“Our algorithms were unfairly filtering 600,000 accounts, including some members of Congress, from our search auto-complete and latest results. We fixed it. But how did it happen?”

However, Mr Dorsey did not provide specific numbers for the Republican Congress members versus Democratic Congress members that were filtered out by the process.

“Looking at the data, we analysed tweets sent by all members of the House and Senate, and found no statistically significant difference between the number of times a tweet by a Democrat is viewed versus a Republican, even after our ranking and filtering of tweets has been applied,” he said.

“Our technology was using a decision-making criteria that considers the behaviour of people following these accounts.

“We decided that wasn’t fair, and corrected. We‘ll always improve our technology and algorithms to drive healthier usage, and measure the impartiality of outcomes.”

The announcement comes after several Republicans, including President Donald Trump, accused Twitter of shadow-banning conservative voices – an act where someone’s visibility to the public is reduced – which Twitter has denied.

“Social media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices,” Mr Trump previously said on Twitter.

“Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump administration, we won’t let that happen.

“They are closing down the opinions of many people on the RIGHT, while at the same time doing nothing to others…”

Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump has accused Twitter of shadow-banning conservative voices (Niall Carson/PA)

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Dorsey stood alongside Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, to give evidence to the US senate intelligence committee about foreign use of social networks to influence politics.

In evidence released before that hearing, Mr Dorsey said Twitter does not “shadow-ban anyone based on political ideology”.

Ms Sandberg said Facebook is working with outside experts in dealing with security concerns, adding: “We are more determined than our opponents and we will keep fighting.”

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