This winter, the events that led to President Trump's election reverberated through the technology and design world.
The phrase "fake news," which rose so quickly to prominence in November and co-opted so seamlessly by Trump in the new year, was hotly debated by journalists, designers, and Mark Zuckerberg alike. It introduced many Americans to the fact that algorithms are already our silent partners. They shape us—our views, our finances, our friendships, our purchases, and even our laws. The kicker? There seems to be nothing we can really do, aside from lobbying technology companies for more transparency or becoming digital ascetics. To borrow a phrase, join or die.
J. Nathan Matias, a PhD candidate at the MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media, studies safety and fairness in online communities. He has argued that testing how online products and platforms affect us—and how they affect civil liberties and the common good in general—isn't just necessary, but an obligation. It's no different than the testing we demand on our food, cars, and medicines.