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Twitter is working on a fix for its automated image cropping

The company says it hasn’t found evidence of bias but that there’s “potential for harm.”

In this photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone on August 10, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. - Wall Street was mixed early August 10, 2020, with Nasdaq retreating further as investors digested President Donald Trump's efforts to take unilateral action in the absence of a deal with Congress on emergency pandemic spending. About an hour into the first trading session of the week, the tech-rich Nasdaq was down 0.4 percent to 10,963.75, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.95 percent to 27,686.07 and the broad-based S&P 500 rose 0.2 percent to 3,357.96. Twitter gained 1.9 percent amid reports the social media giant held talks to combine with Chinese video app TikTok which Trump last week banned from the US amid what he said were security concerns. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Karissa Bell
Karissa Bell|@karissabe|October 1, 2020 9:06 PM

Twitter will change its automated image cropping feature after users complained that it was biased. 

The company says it’s working to “decrease our reliance” on automatic cropping so users can ultimately control how their images appear in a tweet. “We hope that giving people more choices for image cropping and previewing what they’ll look like in the Tweet composer may help reduce the risk of harm,” Twitter writes. “Going forward, we are committed to following the “what you see is what you get” principles of design, meaning quite simply: the photo you see in the Tweet composer is what it will look like in the Tweet.” It’s not clear when these changes might be implemented. 

Twitter first introduced the image cropping feature in 2018, saying it was meant to highlight “salient” areas of the image by using neural networks to predict where someone is “likely to look.”  More recently though, a number of users called it out after a viral tweet pointed out that the cropping consistently picked out lighter-skinned people, regardless of the framing of the original image. Other users soon followed up with their own version of the “experiment,” including images of cartoon characters and even black and white dogs. 

In a blog post, Twitter said that it had conducted its own tests and that “our analyses to date haven’t shown racial or gender bias,” though “we recognize that the way we automatically crop photos means there is a potential for harm.” The company also says it plans to do additional testing and is “exploring ways to open-source our analyses so that others can help keep us accountable.”