Cynthia Khoo › The Unimportance of Being Unintended: Digital Platform Harms and Reasonable Foreseeability

Posted on Wednesday, June 3, 2020


The Centre for Law, Technology and Society presents:


The Unimportance of Being Unintended
Digital Platform Harms and Reasonable Foreseeability 


Cynthia Khoo


Wednesday, June 3, 2020
at 12:00 ET


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Public discourse around harms that arise from digital platforms and platform algorithms often invoke the idea of “unintended consequences”. Examples include how platforms such as Facebook, Google, YouTube, Airbnb, and Uber have fundamentally and negatively impacted sociopolitical issues such as the state of journalism and informed public debate, affordable housing and public transit, and the ability to meaningfully uphold certain human rights, such as the right to privacy or the right to equality and non-discrimination (as impacted by platform-facilitated online abuse). When such consequences are framed as simply “unintended”, the implication may be that they were unforeseen, or unforeseeable. This talk will demonstrate how that implication has repeatedly shown to be untrue, and then lead into a discussion of how distinguishing between unintended, unforeseen, and unforeseeable consequences should inform proposals purporting to apply legal liability to digital platforms for harmful consequences, in the context of historically marginalized communities and the reasonable foreseeability analysis in Canadian tort law.

This talk will also briefly introduce a concept developed and proposed by the presenter: platform-facilitated "emergent systemic harm", which is rooted in the notion of emergence from artificial intelligence and robotics literature. Emergent systemic harm is a systemic harm which emerged unexpectedly from a complex system, whose constituent components did not in isolation necessarily raise legal or ethical concerns, nor individually indicated foreseeable or predictable harm, but which worked together in such a way so as to produce a harmful result that was more than the sum of the system’s parts.


This event will be in English only.
This event will be recorded.
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