A new study from UC Davis suggests that artificial intelligence recommendation algorithms on sites like YouTube and TikTok can play a role in political radicalization. The research team trained “sock puppets” — artificial entities that act like users. Each sock puppet was given a series of right- or left-leaning videos to watch every day, and then the team would compare the recommendations on the sock puppet’s homepage to see if its recommended videos gradually became more biased.
In this episode of The Backdrop, UC Davis computer science Ph.D. student Muhammad Haroon, who led the study, discusses how the study was designed, what the team found, and a new digital tool they created to mitigate the radicalizing effect of social media platform AI algorithms.
The Backdrop podcast is a monthly interview program featuring conversations with UC Davis scholars and researchers working in the social sciences, humanities, arts and culture. It is available free, on demand at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and YouTube. The Backdrop is hosted by public radio veteran Soterios Johnson.