Facebook Is Researching Whether Black Users Are Treated Differently

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Facebook and Instagram’s parent company is looking into racial bias after years of complaints from Black users and employees.

“There are a lot of members of systematically and historically marginalized communities who feel that their experience on our platforms is different,” Roy Austin Jr, vice president of civil rights at Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, told NPR.

The investigation comes after years of complaints and allegations from Black users of Facebook and Instagram who say their posts about racism have been routinely taken down for violating the company’s hate speech policy.

An explosive 2020 report by independent investigators that slammed the company for prioritizing free speech over other values. The investigators said this ultimately defeated efforts to curb hate speech and voter suppression last year.

In September, Facebook apologized after an issue with its artificial intelligence software labeled a video of Black men as “primates” –– highlighting a broader issue of racism in A.I. technology.

To follow through on its word, Meta is starting its racial bias research by tracking the race of its users, which Austin says is “a huge step to moving from the anecdotal to the data driven.”

Knowing users’ race, the company said would help it better understand people’s experiences on the platform and how it differs by race.

“Until we do this kind of data collection, we can’t actually answer that question one way or another,” Austin said.

According to NPR, the company has to navigate privacy rules so it doesn’t violate users in the process of collecting the data. Meta released a paper detailing their approach of combining zip codes to collect the data without violating user privacy.

Austin, a retired civil rights lawyer is heading up the internal research.

“I’ve been able to hire a team of people who know civil rights law, know and understand voting and civic engagement, know and understand product, know and understand artificial intelligence, know and understand law enforcement and hate speech,” he said. “It is incredibly important to have those voices in the rooms that we are in.”

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