Facebook Denies Racially Profiling Users to Target Advertisements

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's Facebook page has garnered 3.2 million "likes"
© AFP/File Lionel Bonaventure

Facebook has denied racially profiling its users, insisting that it’s simply collecting and using data “about ethnic activities and interests.”

The social network reportedly wants to continue offering advertisers targeted audiences of ethnic groups, which is something we have seen them test previously. During the lead up to last year’s N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, Facebook secretly introduced two separate trailer adverts for the film, one targeted at white users and the other for minorities.

Using “ethnic specific data,” the social network algorithmically put two different trailers in front of different races. The one for white people focused almost entirely on Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, the two most well-known members from N.W.A. among those not too familiar with hip hop, or white people in Facebook’s view. The trailer for white people did not even make any specific references to N.W.A., the group that the biopic is solely about, selling it more as a gangster movie.

The trailer targeted at minorities displayed all five members of N.W.A. throughout, assuming that black people would know who Eazy E, DJ Yella, and MC Ren were, and the video opened up with the group’s name in big letters.

In response to allegations about the racial profiling, Facebook issued the following statement:

Several news outlets have stated that Facebook allows advertisers to target ads based on race. That is not accurate. Facebook does not have a capability for people to self-identify by race or ethnicity on the platform. As part of its advertising offering, brands can target ads on Facebook to people based on how they might respond to content. The affinity segments are created, in a privacy-safe way, using signals such as different languages, likes, and group membership on the platform.

Another Facebook rep told Ars Technica, “They like African-American content… But we cannot and do not say to advertisers that they are ethnically black. Facebook does not have a way for people to self-identify by race or ethnicity on the platform.”

Charlie Nash is a frequent contributor to Breitbart Tech and former editor of the Squid Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MrNashington.