Information Access Seminar

Reasons and Rights to be Brave: Rescripting Search to Respect the Right to Truth

Friday, April 20, 2018
3:10 pm to 5:00 pm
107 South Hall
Deirdre Mulligan and Daniel Griffin

What is the function of Google search? Breakdowns, as others have noted provide an opportunity to understand a technical artifact’s function. They allow us to explore the mismatch between the roles and expectations prescribed to and demanded of the users by the designers and the behavior and expectations of actual users. This talk explores a particular breakdown to understand what it tells us about how Google imagines its users, and how users imagine Google search, and how those competing imaginaries contribute to the definition and perception of failure. Through a close examination of one construed failure we identify a particular responsibility — to respect the collective right to truth rooted in the growing expectation on businesses to respect human rights — that Google failed to enact. We then explore how portrayals of search, and the norms of search engineers discourage Google from acting to respect the right to truth — despite is deep entanglement with the function both Google and its users ascribe to search — while at the same time deflecting work to protect the right to truth onto other participants in the script of search. We leverage Akrich’s de-scription to unpack the breakdown of search’s script, and reveal the potential space for Google to act and perform differently. We then bring the discussion together in connecting the normative call for action with normative concerns about the manner of action, and offer a framework rooted in human rights to guide a rescripting of search that aligns social expectations of Google’s responsibility to respect human rights in the context search, and protects against the slippery slope of moderation content platforms fear.

Deirdre K. Mulligan is an associate professor in the School of Information at UC Berkeley, a faculty director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, and an affiliated faculty on the Hewlett-funded Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity.  Mulligan’s research explores legal and technical means of protecting values such as privacy, freedom of expression, and fairness in emerging technical systems.

Daniel Griffin is a Ph.D. student at the School of Information. His research interests center on uncertainty and contingency in intersections between information and values & power, looking at freedom and control in information systems. He is also a co-director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Technology, Society & Policy and a commissioner on the City of Berkeley’s Disaster and Fire Safety Commission. Before graduate school I served as an intelligence analyst in the US Army.

Last updated:

April 4, 2018