Facebook will consider whether it treats black users differently
The parent company of Facebook and Instagram is investigating whether its platforms treat users differently based on race, after years of criticism, especially from black users and its own employees over racial bias.
“There are a lot of people in systematically and historically marginalized communities who think their experience on our platforms is different,” said Roy Austin Jr., vice president of civil rights at Meta, formerly known as Facebook.
This includes black users who say their racism posts were removed for breaking company rules on hate speech. Facebook also apologized in September after a flaw in its artificial intelligence software led to a video of black men being labeled as “primates.”
Meta begins by following the race of users of its platforms, which Austin described as “a big step forward from anecdotal to data.” He said the work would allow the company to understand how people’s experiences on Facebook can differ by race, a first step towards addressing any issue.
“Until we do this kind of data collection, we can’t really answer this question one way or another,” he said.
The challenge for the business is to collect demographic information in a way that does not violate user privacy. Meta published an article detailing how it plans to combine estimates based on zip codes and people’s last names with surveys in which people identify their race or ethnicity.
The announcement came as Meta provided an update on its response to a civil rights audit commissioned by the company following widespread accusations that its products promote discrimination.
The 2020 report, which came after two years of investigation by independent auditors, criticized the company for putting freedom of expression ahead of other values, a move that auditors say undermined its efforts to fight hate speech and voter suppression.
Auditors said the company made “vexatious and heartbreaking decisions,” including refusing to remove the posts of then-President Donald Trump, which “clearly violated” the company’s policies on hate speech and violent and the suppression of voters; exempt politicians from third-party fact-checking; and being “far too reluctant to adopt strict rules to limit [voting] disinformation and voter suppression.
Meta hired Austin, a veteran civil rights lawyer who worked in the Justice Department during the Obama administration, in January in response to the audit. In its Thursday update, the company said it had implemented more than half of auditors’ recommendations, which ranged from hiring more staff to work on civil rights to updating its content and advertising moderation policies, and was progressing or rating most of the rest.
Austin told NPR that the biggest change Meta has made is the creation of the 10-person civil rights team he leads.
“I was able to hire a team of people who know and understand civil rights law, know and understand voting and civic engagement, know and understand the products, know and understand artificial intelligence, know and understand the strengths order and hate speech, ”he said. noted. “It’s extremely important to have these voices in the rooms we are in.”
He says his team gives feedback on the decisions Meta makes and the products it builds.
But outside groups that have long criticized the company’s track record on civil rights and discrimination have said Meta consistently delivers.
“We appreciate [Roy Austin]the leadership of and goals of the Facebook Civil Rights team. However, this progress report is simply not enough, “the Anti-Defamation League, which was part of a coalition that organized a boycott of Facebook advertising for hate speech last year, tweeted Thursday. “At the end of the day, we need to see real transparency and a credible independent expert review.”
The ADL pointed to documents leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen showing that Facebook has failed to suppress hate speech, even if such posts violate its rules. And he said the company should hire more civil rights-focused staff, especially as it focuses on building a new, immersive virtual platform called the Metaverse.
“From Facebook [60,000] employees, less than 10 are part of the civil rights team. Facebook needs to put civil rights expertise into EVERY team, including those building the metaverse, ”the ADL tweeted. “If Facebook is trying to gain credibility, it has clearly missed the mark.
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