Algorithmic Biases and Aesthetic Injustices in the Age of Digital Platforms
Digital platforms like Google, YouTube, or Spotify select the signals they send to their users in order to maximize the probability that these users will interact with them. To do this, they rely on the past behavior of users (the signals they have sent and the traces they have left). A perverse effect of the algorithms whose task is to perform this selection is to feed users signals with which they are already familiar, because they convey opinions or values they already share, and to exclude signals that convey contrary or simply different opinions and values. These effects are known as "echo chambers", and "epistemic bubbles", when it comes more specifically to the dynamics of the beliefs of the trapped users.
While we do not deny the importance of the epistemic consequences of these echo chambers, it would be reductive to consider them only from the point of view of the dynamics of beliefs. It is plausible that recommendation algorithms also have consequences on the formation of aesthetic judgments and preferences. The hypothesis we want to explore concerns the existence of aesthetic bubbles, and in the particular case of sound, of what we could call musical bubbles. In the same way that epistemic bubbles are formed when algorithms only give us access to information that goes in the direction of what we already believe, acoustic bubbles would be formed when these algorithms privilege the contents for which we already have aesthetic preferences and filter out the others. Listeners of baroque music would have no chance to enjoy the pleasures of Berlin's minimal electronic music, and K-pop fans would never have the opportunity to appreciate (or dislike) Japanese free jazz.
This hypothesis contains both a descriptive and a normative component. On the descriptive side, the question is whether such acoustic bubbles exist, and if so by what mechanisms. On the normative level, the main question is whether the constitution of aesthetic bubbles, (in case the descriptive hypothesis is confirmed), leads to a new category of aesthetic injustices. Miranda Fricker's work has popularized the idea that there are epistemic injustices that can occur when the testimonies of people from marginalized groups are not given their due credit, or when people are prevented from making sense of certain aspects of their social lives because of defects in shared conceptual resources. The hypothesis to be explored is the existence of aesthetic injustices, generated by the aesthetic bubbles discussed, which would consist of harms done to people as subjects of aesthetic capacities, whether they are producers or receivers of aesthetic experiences.