Investigative journalism outlet ProPublica criticized Facebook’s “secret censorship rules” for not putting emphasis on protecting minority groups from so-called “hate-speech” but instead trying to “defend all races and genders equally.”
Writing in ProPublica, Julia Angwin complains that “unlike American law, which permits preferences such as affirmative action for racial minorities and women for the sake of diversity of redressing discrimination, Facebook’s algorithm is designed to defend all races and genders equally.”
She quotes Danielle Citron, a law professor and expert on information privacy at the University of Maryland:
Sadly, [the rules are] incorporating this color-blindness idea which is not in the spirit of why we have equal protection… [this approach will] protect the people who least need it and take it away from those who really need it.
Angwin also derides Facebook for living in a “legal world of its own” as its rules “stand in sharp contrast to the United States’ First Amendment protections of free speech,” even though she seemingly praised the US for their affirmative action programs only a few paragraphs previously.
Facebook’s rules on content reviewing are complicated but are designed to protect freedom of speech as much as they can, while also maintaining a level of decorum on the platform. Discriminating posts are not allowed on the basis of “race, sex, gender identity, religious affiliation, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation and serious disability/disease.” On the other hand, Facebook users are free to say what they want when it comes to discussing social class, age, appearance, or political ideologies.
A protected class mixed with a non-protected class results in it not being protected, therefore Facebook will allow posts against female drivers or black children, but not against white men, as that is a combination of both race and sex categories. As this was an example used in an official Facebook tutorial presentation for their workers, Angwin argued this as proof that Facebook is focused on protecting white men.
Leftists on Twitter were quick to praise Angwin for her reporting and attacked Facebook for supposed sexist, racist biases:
Thank you for this incredible reporting. This is the story that will define our time, and if we manage to protect rights and democracy
— Mara Zepeda (@marazepeda) June 28, 2017
Nothing screams delicate like white men….poor little babies..so hard done by…smh!
— Dangerous Debra (@DangerousDebra) June 28, 2017
This makes sense now in regards to @KTHopkins getting away with selling terrorism and radical views to the masses.
— Awakening Tempest (@AwakeningT) June 28, 2017
Censorship & propaganda is used to maintain the status quo. These are short term solutions to systematic international oppression! #Blackmen
— Loray Muhammad (@LorayMuhammad) June 28, 2017
Sounds like the algorithm is working as intended, whether implicitly or explicitly.#racismbyanyothername
— Fentriss O. Moore (@FentrissMoore) June 28, 2017
However, not all were impressed with the reporting, with one user highlighting a particularly prescient argument regarding the issue:
Or you could have said "protects black men more than white children" but it wouldn't be as clickbaity
— Prathan "Never Gonna Give You Up" (@scomma) June 28, 2017