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Communications of the ACM

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Bias on the Web

Bias on the Web, illustration

Credit: Sviatlana Sheina

Our inherent human tendency of favoring one thing or opinion over another is reflected in every aspect of our lives, creating both latent and overt biases toward everything we see, hear, and do. Any remedy for bias must start with awareness that bias exists; for example, most mature societies raise awareness of social bias through affirmative-action programs, and, while awareness alone does not completely alleviate the problem, it helps guide us toward a solution. Bias on the Web reflects both societal and internal biases within ourselves, emerging in subtler ways. This article aims to increase awareness of the potential effects imposed on us all through bias present in Web use and content. We must thus consider and account for it in the design of Web systems that truly address people's needs.

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Key Insights


Bias has been intrinsically embedded in culture and history since the beginning of time. However, due to the rise of digital data, it can now spread faster than ever and reach many more people. This has caused bias in big data to become a trending and controversial topic in recent years. Minorities, especially, have felt the harmful effects of data bias when pursuing life goals, with outcomes governed primarily by algorithms, from mortgage loans to advertising personalization.24 While the obstacles they face remain an important roadblock, bias affects us all, though much of the time we are unaware it exists or how it might (negatively) influence our judgment and behavior.


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