Tag Archives: ProPublica

Facebook Shuts Down Its Redlining Machine

Redlining – The practice of denying services, accommodations and opportunities  either directly or through selectively raising prices or targeting advertising to certain people based on the racial or ethnic identities.

Facebook has shut down its powerful redlining machine innocently known as affinity marketing. A ProPublica investigation revealed that advertisers have been using Facebook’s “multicultural affinity”  tool to avoid advertising to people of color. As the world’s largest social network Facebook has 2.1 billion users and brings in $36 billion in annual revenue.

As early as last week ProPublica reported that Facebook was still allowing advertisers to exclude African-Americans and other minorities. Facebook had promised to crackdown on racist ad targeting but the practice continues. Part of the crackdown involved asking advertisers to certify that they are not using race as an advertising parameter.

But in mid-November ProPublica purchased dozens of rental housing ads from Facebook. ProPublica investigators asked that ads not be shown to African Americans, mothers of high school kids, people interested in wheelchair ramps, Jews, expats from Argentina and Spanish speakers. The ads were approved in mere minutes.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 specifically states that it’s illegal to “to make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” But redlining also pertains to banks that deny capital to minority businesses.

In a letter to the Congressional Black Caucus Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg stated that this type of ad targeting is common in the industry. Sandberg wrote that there are “many legitimate uses for this kind of marketing.” She acknowledged that Facebook’s tools are being used by advertisers to discriminate against people in the areas of housing, employment and credit loans.

As a result Facebook has temporarily disabled the option that allows advertisers to exclude multicultural affinity groups from their target audience. Sandberg wrote in her letter to the CBC that multicultural affinity groups “are made up of people whose activities on Facebook suggest they may be interested in ads related to the African-American, Hispanic-American, or Asian-American communities.”

Facebook issued a statement last week saying it put “safeguards” in place following the ProPublica’s original report but blamed a “technical glitch” for the continued problems.

“This was a failure in our enforcement and we’re disappointed that we fell short of our commitments. Earlier this year, we added additional safeguards to protect against the abuse of our multicultural affinity tools to facilitate discrimination in housing, credit and employment. The rental housing ads purchased by ProPublica should have but did not trigger the extra review and certifications we put in place due to a technical failure.”

To Facebook’s credit its technology has stopped millions of race exclusive ads from appearing on its network.

Facebooks Vice President of Product Management Ami Vora, said in an email,  “The rental housing ads purchased by ProPublica should have but did not trigger the extra review and certifications we put in place due to a technical failure.”

Vora added what Facebook has said in the past; that Facebook will now begin requiring self-certification for ads in all categories that choose to exclude an audience segment.

Breaking It Down

What is really happening is that Facebook has gotten too good and too big for its own good. Affinity marketing is a legitimate advertising practice. No argument there. Facebook has gotten so good and so big it can find a target market for snow shoes in Fiji. But Facebook is failing in this battle because it is offers the tool for the wrong purpose. When Facebook said it was temporarily shutting down the function to advertisers it was really saying we’ll try again. Certain advertising should never have been offered the use of the feature in the first place. Sure when it come to clothes, chewing gum, cars, and furniture allow advertisers the ability to more precisely target its audience. But when it comes to things that Facebook knows are covered in the anti-discrimination laws those advertisers should not have that option. Facebook knows the rules and so do the advertisers. So as Facebook faces more heat for its affinity marketing power it needs to ask stop making excuses and eliminate the tool for certain advertisers. Facebook is playing dumb but they know the difference.

Racism Online: Social Media Companies Target Ads to Racists

The web’s biggest social media companies have been targeting ads to racists. Facebook, Google and Twitter have allowed advertisers to target groups expressing interests in topics such as “Jew hater,” How to burn jews” and “why jews ruin the world.” Facebook’s advertising algorithm went even further by suggesting other racist and hate interests to advertisers including search terms like “Hitler did nothing wrong.”  After being notified by ProPublica Facebook removed the antisemitic categories.

But that did not solve the problem entirely. Online magazine Slate used Facebook’s ad targeting to create ads targeting those interested in “Ku-Klux-Klan,” and other white nationalist interests.

ProPublica first attempted to purchase three ads, or “promoted posts,” using Facebook’s targeting tool. At first they were rejected. But not for the reason you might think. The ad placement was rejected because the number of Facebook users searching the racist terms was beneath a pre-programmed number of users. ProPublica then added a larger category to “Jew hater” and the others. Facebook’s ad tool then said the selected audience was “great!” Fifteen minutes later the company’s ad system had approved all three ads.

Facebook is not alone. BuzzFeed discovered Google, the world’s largest advertising platform,  also had problems in its ad targeting. Google’s ad targeting allowed advertisers to target people searching phrases such as “black people ruin everything” and “jews control the media.”

Like Facebook, Google’s algorithm auto-suggested similar phrases, such as “the evil jew.” To confirm their findings BuzzFeed ran the ads and verified the ads did indeed appear on the web.

After BuzzFeed’s report Google disabled the keyword searches used in the ad buy. However, according to BuzzFeed,  the search term “blacks destroy everything,” remained.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s senior vice president of advertising, in an email.”We’ve already turned off these suggestions and any ads that made it through, and will work harder to stop this from happening again.” 

Twitter too was found to have algorithms that played into racism. According to the Daily Beast  Twitter allowed the targeting of ads to racist. Twitter’s algorithm allowed advertisers to target millions of customers searching terms like “wetback” and “nigger.” The Daily Beast was also able to successfully placed the ads online.  And, like Facebook and Google, Twitter generated suggestions in response to racist terms.

According to Twitter  it fixed its algorithm that permitted marketers to target racist.
The Daily Beast reported that Twitter Ads returned 26.3 million users who may respond to the term “wetback,” 18.6 million to “Nazi,” and 14.5 million to “nigger.”

Facebook appears to be dealing with a recurring problem. That is racist ad targeting. In 2016  AACR reported that advertisers were using the social media platform ad targeting to exclude people of color from seeing ads for housing and other services. Facebook uses the term “affinity marketing” but it is also known as “red lining.” This is the practice of denying certain groups access to homes, jobs and other service based on race.

Are these companies undercover racists or is something else happening here? Technology is supposed to be color blind but these issues keep popping up, especially for Facebook.

According to Facebook, algorithms select categories based on what users list as employment or education. People have used terms such as “Jew Hater,” as their jobs and listed employers as  “Jew Killing Weekly Magazine.”  Or as education they list “Threesome Rape.”  As a result Facebook’s algorithm, which is not designed to understand the meaning of these terms, create target market categories.

Some experts believe that many algorithms that are programmed to make decisions are programmed on data sets that do not include a diverse range of people.

Graphic designer Johanna Burai created the World White Web project after she searched for an image of human hands. Her search on Google resulted in images of millions of hands almost exclusively white.

Google responded by saying its image search results are “a reflection of content from across the web, including the frequency with which types of images appear and the way they’re described online” and are not connected to its “values”.

Joy Buolamwini, a postgraduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched The Algorithmic Justice League (AJL) in November 2016.
Buolamwini, a dark skin African-American, was attempting to use facial recognition software for a project but the program could not process her face.

“I found that wearing a white mask, because I have very dark skin, made it easier for the system to work. It was the reduction of a face to a model that a computer could more easily read.”
It was not the first time Buolamwini experienced the problem. Once before she had to ask a lighter-skinned room-mate to help her.

“I had mixed feelings. I was frustrated because this was a problem I’d seen five years earlier was still persisting,” she said. “And I was amused that the white mask worked so well.”

But is technology and these algorithms really racist? Maybe not so much as some would have us to believe. Algorithms are programs and programs are created by people who program computers. So it is not unthinkable that racism and biases creep into programs.





Cruise Ship Health and Safety Website

ID-100156213Nothing beats a summer vacation except a summer vacation on a cruise ship. The cruise ship industry is a multi-billion dollars a year business. African-American spending on leisure travel and hospitality has been estimated from $40 billion to $56 billion. African-American travel in the U.S. is expected to grow 25% over this decade. In addition African-Americans can find cruise ship vacation packages tailored just for us. These cruise ship vacations feature popular black muscians, actors, comedians, athletes and other celebrities. One of the more popular of these cruises is the Tom Joyner Fantastic Voyage that is held annually aboard Carnival Cruise Lines.

Arnold Donald, CEO Carnival Cruise Lines

Arnold Donald, CEO Carnival Cruise Lines

In July of 2013 Carnival Cruise Line named Arnold Donald as the first African-American CEO of the company. Carnival Cruise is the worlds largest cruise ship line with more than 120,000 employees and 100 ships for the 10.5 million passengers who sail annually.

But the real issue of cruising has become the safety and health of cruise ship passengers. Cruise ships have become notorious for rapidly spreading illnesses, passenger safety issues, even crime.

Black people, like all cruise passengers, want to know that the ship they are on is clean and safe. If you plan to go on a cruise there are many questions you want to ask and have answered before you pay out your hard earned vacation money.

One place to start doing your research is a website known as Crusie Control. Cruise Control is a research tool for finding issues with individual cruise ships by searching for them by the ship’s name. According to Crusie Control there were over 1,700 passengers stricken by onboard illnesses last year. Other on board incidents include adults and children who have drowned, passsengers falling overboard, rapes and sexual assaults, theft and even murder.  You can read more about cruise ship crime here.

Cruise Control can give you the latest information on the cruise ship you wish to book passage on.  As a potential cruise ship customer you need to do the research to determne if the ship meets your specifications. Crusie Control provides the passenger shopping for a cruise vacation with the following information;

  • The year the ship was built and what company built it.
  • Total capacity.
  • Deck layout.
  • Nation of ship’s registration
  • Its current position and crusie description.
  • Health scores and inspection results with details.
  • Safety reports including serious crime and injuries as reported to the U.S. Coast Guard along with details of the incidents.
  • U.S. Coast Guard inspection with details of the deficiencies found.

Spending money on a crusie ship vacation is like anything else you buy; you have to know what you are getting for your money.  So doing your research before you set foot on board a ship is vital. Millions of passengers set sail on crusie ship vacations every year and they have a safe and enjoyable crusie with no issues whatsoever. But you can take an extra measure of caution by checking out that ship before hand. MarketWatch.com published a list of the cleanest crusie ships of 2014 to help you.

Now you know.