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Counterfactual Fairness in Text Classification through Robustness

Sahaj Garg
Nicole Limtiaco
Ankur Taly
Alex Beutel
AAAI/ACM Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Ethics, and Society (AIES) (2019)


In this paper, we study counterfactual fairness in text classification, which asks the question: How would the prediction change if the sensitive attribute referenced in the example were different? Toxicity classifiers demonstrate a counterfactual fairness issue by predicting that "Some people are gay'' is toxic while "Some people are straight'' is nontoxic. We offer a metric, counterfactual token fairness (CTF), for measuring this particular form of fairness in text classifiers, and describe its relationship with group fairness. Further, we offer three approaches, blindness, counterfactual augmentation, and counterfactual logit pairing (CLP), for optimizing counterfactual token fairness during training, bridging the robustness and fairness literature. Empirically, we find that blindness and CLP address counterfactual token fairness. The methods do not harm classifier performance, and have varying tradeoffs with group fairness. These approaches, both for measurement and optimization, provide a new path forward for addressing fairness concerns in text classification.