Auditing algorithmic filtering on social media

Wednesday, April 20, 2022 - 4:00pm to 4:30pm

Event Calendar Category

LIDS & Stats Tea

Speaker Name

Sarah Cen



Building and Room Number

LIDS Lounge


By filtering the content that users see, social media platforms have the ability to influence users' perceptions and decisions, from their dining choices to their voting preferences. This influence has drawn scrutiny, with many calling for regulations on filtering algorithms, but designing and enforcing regulations remains challenging. In this work, we examine three questions. First, given a regulation, how would one design an audit to enforce it? Second, does the audit impose a performance cost on the platform? Third, how does the audit affect the content that the platform is incentivized to filter? In response, we propose a method such that, given a regulation, an auditor can test whether that regulation is met with only black-box access to the filtering algorithm. We then turn to the platform's perspective. The platform's goal is to maximize an objective function while meeting regulation. We find that there are conditions under which the regulation does not place a high performance cost on the platform and, notably, that content diversity can play a key role in aligning the interests of the platform and regulators.




Sarah is a PhD student working with Prof. Devavrat Shah. She studies machine learning theory with a focus on social good. Her ongoing projects include auditing algorithms for social media and causal inference under network effects. Previously, she has studied how to achieve fairness when agents learn under competition, developed localization algorithms for autonomous driving, and examined the leader selection problem in communication networks.