Research Law student Melany Amarikwa explores how social media algorithms harm people of color

This article was originally published in Penn Today on October 19, 2023. 
A longer version appears on the Penn Carey Law website here

Privacy and racial justice in law

In the Richmond Journal of Law & Technology, Melany Amarikwa explores the harms perpetuated by TikTok’s unique use of recommendation algorithms.

Photo of Melany AmarikwaUniversity of Pennsylvania Carey Law School student Melany Amarikwa published “Social Media Platforms’ Reckoning: The Harmful Impact of TikTok’s Algorithm on People of Color” in the Richmond Journal of Law & Technology. In the article, Amarikwa argues that TikTok’s application of recommendation algorithms poses unique harms to people of color, including active and passive discrimination perpetuated on the social media platform.

“While technological advancements have the potential to enhance efficiency, it is imperative for companies and developers to adapt these technologies in response to community concerns regarding the disproportionate impact and harm,” Amarikwa says.

“The findings of possible harms presented in the article serve as a warning to other social media platforms using similar algorithms. I hope to continue researching the topic and addressing how social media platforms’ use of AI impacts marginalized groups.”

Taking Privacy and Racial Justice with Anita L. Allen, Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy, inspired Amarikwa to pursue publication.

Allen has taught privacy and data protection law for 20 years and, in 2021, designed Privacy and Racial Justice to examine the history and application of legal concepts of privacy through the lens of race.

“Professor Allen expressed a desire to uncover scholarly articles delving into instances of racial bias on digital platforms,” Amarikwa says. “However, the existing literature was deficient in this respect. In collaboration with Professor Allen and Penn Carey Law alums, I set out to address this gap in scholarship.”

“Only in the past several years have scholars begun to look closely at privacy and racial justice, and I am encouraging my students to become part of a new generation of scholars who write and publish in this area,” Allen says.

Read more at Penn Carey Law.

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