Zeynep Tufekci addresses data-driven health care risks and algorithmic amplification

November 29, 2018

Zeynep Tufekci, Associate Professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS), made two recent contributions to the conversations surrounding data-driven healthcare and algorithmic amplification on platforms of the 21st century. Tufekci’s writing on the topics appeared in the New York Times Magazine and Wired.

Tufekci’s New York Times Magazine article, “Data-driven Medicine Will Help People, but Can It Do So Equally,” examines the issue of data-driven medicine fostering division among those who can afford health care and those who cannot, as well as those who undertake research and those who do not. With data technology becoming cheaper and more widely available, this gap will increase and could lead to more discrimination, Tufekci argues. Legislators are aware of these problems, thus passing the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, barring companies from hiring, firing, or promoting workers based on their genetic tests, and barring insurance companies from requiring or using such test to decide coverage.

“It may seem perverse to worry about inequality when we are talking about something that can improve so many lives, but a society isn’t held together by making wonderful things available to just a few rich people,” Tufekci writes. “This isn’t an argument for holding back improvements in health care. It is an argument instead that we must focus on equitable outcomes for all of us.”

Read the full article at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/11/15/magazine/tech-design-inequality-health.html

Her piece with Wired, “‘He Who Must Not Be Named’: What Alex Jones and Voldemort Have in Common,” discussed the deplatforming of Alex Jones, and the system that allowed him the attention in the first place. Tufekci says Jones was a kind of real-world Voldemort. To condemn his conspiracy theories is to draw more attention to them. This was made possible due to social media platforms’ sorting algorithms that are designed to maximize engagement, which then spread his misinformation farther. Legislators, users, and platforms have to be involved in dealing with the problem of algorithmic amplification. 

“As with most social problems, we have to accept that there is no single, perfect solution, no avoiding trade-offs, and also that inaction is a decision too,” Tufekci writes.

Read the full article at https://www.wired.com/story/infowars-alex-jones-voldemort-platform-attention-gaming/