You are here

‘Mathwashing,’ Facebook and the zeitgeist of data worship

“Don’t overlook the inherent subjectivity of building things with data just because you’re using math,” says former Kickstarter data scientist Fred Benenson.

Computers are people, too.

It’s something we’ve been thinking about over at Brooklyn HQ for a bit and it’s come up in the news recently a few times, most notably last month with the Facebook Trending Topic Imbroglio of 2016. In the end, the big deal was that people thought that the trending topics that show up on the sidebar on Facebook were value-neutral and reflected only what people were talking about on FB. Well, turns out, no, people have an editorial role, too, and there were serious claims of liberal bias.

But to take a step back, liberal bias, sensational bias, or otherwise, maybe we shouldn’t have expected that the stories on Facebook or machine-generated content to be some magical, neutral, mechanical thing, anyway. People make this stuff.

Fred Benenson was the second hire at Kickstarter, and served as the crowdfunding company’s Vice President of Data. He coined a term online last week, “mathwashing” which explains a bit about the complexities of data. We were fortunate enough to interview him about his thoughts on the current zeitgeist of data worship.

Read Complete Article