Facebook Agrees to Anti-Bias Overhaul in Targeted Ads

(CN) — Everybody these days, from the president on down, has been accusing Facebook of bias, but it took one determined coalition to back up their discrimination claims in a U.S. court of law.

Announcing wide-ranging reforms on Tuesday, Facebook settled lawsuits that accused the social media giant of systematically excluding minority groups via targeted-advertising algorithms.

“Under the settlements, Facebook will implement sweeping changes to its ad platform to prevent advertisers for housing, employment or credit from discriminating based on race, national origin, ethnicity, age, sex, sexual orientation, disability, family status, or other characteristics covered by federal, state, and local civil rights laws,” Facebook and its challengers said in a joint statement this afternoon.

The settlements resolve five lawsuits filed between 2016 and 2018 in courts across the country.

In one suit led by the American Civil Liberties Union, the group alleged that Facebook allowed employers to exclude millions of women from traditionally male-dominated fields.

“As the internet — and platforms like Facebook — play an increasing role in connecting us all to information related to economic opportunities, it’s crucial that micro-targeting not be used to exclude groups that already face discrimination,” the ACLU’s senior staff attorney Galen Sherwin said in a statement.

Sherwin expressed her hope that other Silicon Valley giants would follow Facebook’s lead.

A separate lawsuit led by the National Fair Housing Alliance cited an experiment that exposed a practice they called virtual redlining. 

Creating dozens of fictitious ads, the group found that Facebook allowed advertisers to exclude families with children or women from seeing the housing ads. It was also possible, the demonstration observed, for advertisers to exclude users whose profiles indicated disabilities or national origin.

Facebook also agreed to pay nearly $3 million in legal fees to another challenger, the Communications Workers of America.

Though silent on today’s settlement, Trump fumed at Facebook for temporarily blocking his social media director Dan Scavino.

“I will be looking into this!” Trump tweeted, adding #StopTheBias.

Trump’s hashtag had not been referring to Facebook’s documented practice of helping advertisers exclude women, minorities and people with disabilities from jobs and housing, but from perceived bias against political conservatives in the United States.

Facebook apologized to Scavino, whom the company said was blocked because of spam activity.

Though social-media companies have increasingly excluded right-wing conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones from disseminating disinformation on their websites, there is no evidence suggesting that Facebook or Twitter algorithms are biased against conservatives.

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