Civil rights groups have long charged that Facebook’s algorithms negatively impact Black users and internal Facebook documents prove that the allegations are mainly true.
Facebook was fully aware that its algorithms were biased against Black people, an internal study found. On top of this, when Facebook was given a proposal by researchers to fix its so-called race-blind practices around hate speech that resulted in Black users being targeted, “conservative partners” pushed back on the corrections. The result is basically digital redlining of Black users. Digital redlining is the practice of creating and perpetuating inequities between already marginalized groups specifically through the use of digital tools. It works against Black users and the Facebook report points this out.
Facebook executives were confronted with a real-life example of digital redlining using a post featuring an image of four female Democratic lawmakers known collectively as “the Squad.” At the time last year, The Squad included Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.).
In the post, two of the Squad who are Muslim were called “swami rag heads,” and a comment from another Facebook user referred to the four women of color as “black c—s,” according to internal Facebook company documents exclusively obtained by The Washington Post.
The report’s researchers urged Facebook executives to overhaul their software system that would delete mainly hateful posts before any Facebook users could see them.
Facebook’s leaders didn’t want to move ahead with the software adjustments, the Washington Post reported. Top executives feared the revamped system would protect some vulnerable users over others, according to two people familiar with the internal discussion. Executives also feared backlash from “conservative partners,” according to the document.
“Even though (Facebook executives) don’t have any animus toward people of color, their actions are on the side of racists,” said Tatenda Musapatike, a former Facebook manager working on political ads and CEO of the Voter Formation Project. This nonpartisan nonprofit uses digital communication to increase participation in local state, and national elections. “You are saying that the health and safety of women of color on the platform is not as important as pleasing your rich White man friends,” Musapatike said.
The Black audience on Facebook is in decline, according to data from a study Facebook conducted in February 2021 that was revealed in documents obtained by whistleblower Frances Haugen. According to the February report, the number of Black monthly users fell 2.7 percent to 17.3 million adults in one month. It also shows that usage by Black people peaked in September 2020. Haugen’s legal counsel provided redacted versions of the documents to Congress, viewed by a consortium of news organizations including the Post.
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The bias in the Facebook algorithm also affects where its ad dollars go.
Not much has been done to get rid of bias in digital advertising, which is worth billions of dollars. A majority of social media platforms utilize blacklisting and whitelisting. “For advertisers, a blacklist is simply a list that identifies the sites on which an advertiser does not want its advertising to appear. In contrast, a whitelist identifies only the sites on which an advertiser wants its advertising to appear. You wouldn’t use both on the same campaign,” wrote Jamarlin Martin, founder and CEO of The Moguldom Nation.