Twitter has announced measures to change the way its automated image cropping feature works after users complained of it being racially biased. The company says it will decrease reliance on machine learning-based image cropping and give users more control over what their images will look like on the platform.
Twitter introduced the image cropping feature back in January 2018. It is designed to prevent photos from taking up too much space on the feed while allowing for multiple pictures to be shown in the same tweet. The company’s machine learning algorithm crops images to try to focus on the most important parts. As Twitter says, these are the parts where someone is “likely to look.”
However, some users recently discovered that Twitter’s algorithmic tools consistently picked up faces with lighter skin tone over darker ones. The discovery spread like a wildfire and other users soon followed up with their own version of the experiment. Not just humans, but Twitter also appears to be highlighting “whitish” cartoon characters and animals over those that feature a darker tone.
People began calling out Twitter for racial bias. The company responded saying it had tested the feature for bias before it started using it. However, it now accepts that those tests perhaps didn’t go far enough.
“We tested for bias before shipping the model and didn’t find evidence of racial or gender bias in our testing, but it’s clear that we’ve got more analysis to do,” Liz Kelley of Twitter said in a statement. The company has now shared additional details on its tests and said its working on measures to improve the service.
Twitter to change the way its automated image cropping works
Twitter has admitted that the way it automatically crops photos means there is a potential for harm. In a blog post on Thursday, Parag Agrawal, Chief Technology Officer, and Dantley Davis, Chief Design Officer at Twitter, said the company is working on measures to help reduce the risk of harm.
Going forward, Twitter will follow the “what you see is what you get” principles for its automated image cropping feature. Users will be able to select what an image will look like in a tweet right from the composer window. There will remain some exceptions, though. Twitter has yet to come up with a plan for how to show photos that aren’t a standard size. Those include photos that are really long or wide.
It’s unclear when these changes will go into effect. Twitter currently has most of its focus on the 2020 US election. It recently announced additional security measures for political accounts. The company is also to working on tackling misinformation on its platform ahead of the November 3 election.