Racism on Facebook — What Year Is This?
On Election Day, I stood in line for more than an hour. So I started talking with the African-American woman in line in front of me, and the subject of published racism came up.
“It’s 2016,” she said with incredulity — as though this should absolutely not still be happening.
She was specifically talking about “the media.” That generic term, of course, came back to what she saw on Facebook.
Swastikas, Confederate flags and racial epithets abound in Facebook posts.
But Facebook ads?
“African-Americans need not apply for this job.” “Hispanics can’t live here.” “No loans for Asian-Americans.”
Ads on Facebook may not actually say these things, but they can by default. Marketers can target their desired demographics; which means, if they like, they can exclude them, as well. But those omissions will soon end for ads about employment, housing and credit. Facebook is implementing new ad tools to fight discriminatory — and, therefore, illegal — employment, housing and credit ads.
“Discriminatory advertising has no place on Facebook,” asserts Erin Egan, Facebook VP, U.S. Public Policy and Chief Privacy Officer in a blog post on Friday.
She and the others at Facebook may mean well, but they’re still expecting a lot that may be generally absent from human nature — a sense of responsibility and knowledge of the law.
Expecting self-policing from all marketers and fact-checking from consumers will probably not sustain Facebook’s ad business and the content being shared. There are some dangerous problems ahead for Facebook if its leaders don’t wrap their heads around this:
The Law of Unintended Consequences
Lost consumer trust is difficult to regain, marketers tell me.
With so many ways to lose trust, what’s Facebook’s route?
I’d say it’s content — organic and paid.
Marketers may assume Facebook has a handle on it, but they did see Facebook’s video view metric snafu. It’s a basic metric, and Facebook is having trouble.
So expecting Facebook to keep its entire network trustworthy may be expecting a lot — especially when the company tends to fire editors and replace them with engineers and algorithms; thereby, introducing fake content to the trending stories section. (Google has this fake news problem, too.)
About 44 percent of Americans get their news from Facebook and the fake news they’re reading is in the double digits, according to Pew. That doesn’t indicate to me that consumers are fact-checking what they’re reading. So when they find out it’s false, I’ve heard them blame the platform — not just the sources.
So, Facebook advertisers, I argue that content is so nuanced and varied that it needs trained human eyes to review it. Not just algorithms.
It’ll take more than the dozen Facebookers in the company’s task force studying this controversy to fix it. Facebook will have to hire editors.
That absence of carbon-based life forms seems to permeate Facebook’s ad process, too.
Plus, there’s the side-cost to brands of platforms seeming to be automated. Consumers get angry, according to a Twitter brand manager who spoke to Digiday: “If someone’s not happy, the reaction is always the same. There’s no middle ground, just all-out rage. To them, we are the worst people in history. If people don’t get the answer they want, they can become trolls. They don’t realize there is a person behind that screen; they see it as an outlet to vent.”
Facebook should probably have lawyers review its entire ad structure. Brands and consumers will benefit from it.
Effectively redlining in home sales is such an “of course you don’t do that” situation that it doesn’t seem as though the social network is really thinking these things out. (Another example is Facebook Marketplace. When the general public got to use it, sellers were hawking babies and guns.)
Most marketers seem to pay attention to the law and follow it, and have good intentions toward their customers. But the ones who don’t are the reason laws exist to prevent discriminatory practices and, for that matter, deceptive advertising and a whole lot more.
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.