Facebook Fails Discrimination Test

March 12, 2018

While racism and discrimination still plague society, the average person does not participate in it.  The Internet exacerbates hatred to the point that people believe it is more powerful today than it was in the past.  Social media Web sites do their best to prevent these topics from spreading by using sentiment analytics.  Sentiment analytics are still in their infancy and, on more than one occasion, have proven to work against their intended purpose.  TechCrunch shares that, “Facebook’s Ad System Shown Failing To Enforce Its Own Anti-Discriminatory Policy” is a recent example.

Facebook demands to be allowed to regulate themselves when it comes to abuse of their services, such as ads.  Despite the claims that Facebook can self-regulate itself, current events have proven the contrary.  The article points to Facebook’s claim that it disabled its ethnic affinity ad targeting for employment, housing, and credit.  ProPublica ran a test case by creating fake rental housing ads.  What did they discover? Facebook continues to discriminate:

However instead of the platform blocking the potentially discriminatory ad buys, ProPublica reports that all its ads were approved by Facebook “within minutes” — including an ad that sought to exclude potential renters “interested in Islam, Sunni Islam and Shia Islam”. It says that ad took the longest to approve of all its buys (22 minutes) — but that all the rest were approved within three minutes.

It also successfully bought ads that it judged Facebook’s system should at least flag for self-certification because they were seeking to exclude other members of protected categories. But the platform just accepted housing ads blocked from being shown to categories including ‘soccer moms’, people interested in American sign language, gay men and people interested in wheelchair ramps.

Facebook reiterated its commitment to anti-discrimination and ProPublica responds that if an outside research team was called to regulate Facebook then these ads would never have reached the Web.  Maybe Facebook should follow Google’s example and higher content curators to read every single ad to prevent the bad stuff from getting through.

Whitney Grace, March 12, 2018


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