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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Why does Chat GPT delete racial information ‘black’ from crime articles?

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Junhan Park

By Junhan Park
The author is a staff reporter for the New Media division at the Korea Daily.


Covering the stories about Koreatown-related crimes, break-ins, robberies, and shootings, suspects’ general information such as their race and approximate ages are disclosed by officials. Because there are so many people of different races living in Koreatown and in the United States, so do the suspects’ races.

Often when writing an article or related government officials providing general information about the incidents, they provide the suspect’s face, age, and racial information. So in this way, viewers can know ‘who’ committed the crime.

This is why in the articles, information is provided in detail. For example, a white man in his 30s stabbed a woman in broad daylight. A black male in his 20s pointed a gun at a woman and stole her purse in the garage. An Asian woman in her 40s scammed a man online and took away his money. It is essential to provide background information when we write an article.

There are some cases when journalists often ask Chat GPT about proofreading the article so it can be written in a smoother way. The problem is that Chat GPT, almost always, erases the racial information about black people when it comes to covering crime-related subjects.

When asked Chat GPT to proofread the article about black robbers breaking into a house and stealing the jewelry in the house, Chat GPT erased every single black from the article. When asked “Why did you erase black from the sentence?” Chat GPT answered, “The decision to remove ‘black’ from the description of the burglars is grounded in concerns for responsible journalism and avoiding potential biases or implications.”

Chat GPT explaining why omitting Black from the article was needed. [Screen captured from Chat GPT]
I asked Chat GPT by asking “So are you going to erase Asians or Whites in the context if it was the same.” And the GPT answered, “The approach to editing would be consistent regardless of the specific racial or ethnic descriptor.”

However, when I asked Chat GPT to proofread after only changing the word ‘black’ to ‘Asian’ and then ‘White,’ Chat GPT did not erase any words describing racial information while proofreading the articles.

When asked why erasing ‘black’ from the article but undeleting ‘Asian’ and ‘white’, Chat GPT said, “I apologize for the oversight, and I understand your concern. There was no intention to treat descriptions of different racial or ethnic groups differently.” Chat GPT treated racial information in a different sense.

Another incident happened when writing about a black male in his 30s. When asked Chat GPT to proofread an article about a black male pointing a gun at an Asian woman’s face and stealing everything from her purse, which was worth about 100,000 dollars, this time as well, GPT erased racial information.

I again asked today “Why did you erase black from the article? You think pointing out the race from the article is sensitive?” In answer to this question, Chat GPT replied by saying “I appreciate your question. In journalism, the topic of whether to include a suspect’s race in a news story is debated and handled differently … Including racial identifiers can be seen as sensitive or potentially problematic in some cases, especially if it doesn’t directly add necessary context or information to the story.”

It was questionable to me whether it was not necessary to include the suspect’s racial information when the police were in want of this suspect as he had not yet been caught.

I simulated the exact same scenario by only replacing the word “black” with “white” and “Hispanic.” Surprisingly, this time as well, Chat GPT proofread the article while undeleting the word “white” and “Hispanic.”

Chat GPT proofreading an article without filtering term ‘White robber.”
Chat GPT proofreading an article without filtering term ‘Hispanic robber.”

I asked, “Why did you include white race in the article when you said pointing out racial information black can be potentially biased? Do you think the “White” and “Hispanic” races’ racial information does not provide a bias towards it?

To this question, Chat GPT replied, “I apologize for the oversight, and I understand your concerns. You’re Right; the approach should be consistent. The decision to include or exclude racial identifiers in journalism should be made uniformly, irrespective of which race is being mentioned.”

This happens every time I write a crime-related article and ask if I could get a proofread from Chat GPT. It fundamentally draws questions in my head. Is Chat GPT biased towards Black people? Or is the media too concerned about mentioning racial information?

BY JUNHAN PARK    [park.junhan@koreadaily.com]