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Facebook is Launching a New Investigation into Potential Algorithmic Bias in its Systems



Facebook is launching a new investigation into potential bias within its algorithms, as it works to improve its systems in response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and in light of its recent civil rights audit.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, both Facebook and Instagram will launch new examinations of their core algorithms.

As per WSJ:

“The newly formed “equity and inclusion team” at Instagram will examine how Black, Hispanic and other minority users in the U.S. are affected by the company’s algorithms, including its machine-learning systems, and how those effects compare with white users, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Facebook will establish a similar team for its main app.

As noted, the move comes in response to the rising calls for improved representation on all levels, after the recent #BlackLivesMatter protests, while Facebook’s own civil rights audit, conducted over two years, and published earlier this month, found various concerns with the platform’s systems, including the potential for algorithmic bias.

As per the report:

“Because algorithms work behind the scenes, poorly designed, biased, or discriminatory algorithms can silently create disparities that go undetected for a long time unless systems are in place to assess them.” 


Facebook’s algorithms have inadvertently facilitated discriminatory processes in the past. Back in 2016, a report from ProPublica showed that it was possible to use Facebook’s ‘ethnic affinities’ demographic segmentation to eliminate specific racial groups from your ad reach, which is in violation of federal laws.

Facebook ethnic affinity

Facebook subsequently suspended the ability to target ads by excluding racial groups, yet, at the time, Facebook also noted that many ad targeting options like this were being built by Facebook’s machine learning systems, based on usage trends. As such, they were more a result of the algorithm providing options based on the available data, as opposed to Facebook deliberately facilitating such.

Facebook eventually removed all potentially discriminatory targeting options for housing, employment or credit ads last year. But even then, experts noted that any algorithmically defined system remains susceptible to inherent bias, based on the input data set.

As per Pauline Kim, a professor of employment law at Washington University:

“It’s within the realm of possibility, depending on how the algorithm is constructed, that you could end up serving ads, inadvertently, to biased audiences.”

That’s because the system is reading the data as it’s input.

As a basic illustration, if your company hires more white people, there’s a chance that an algorithm, looking to display your job ads to candidates, would only serve your job ads only to white users, based on the data it has available.

Essentially, the concern is that any algorithm based on real-world data will always reflect current-world biases, and Facebook won’t be able to detect such within its processes without conducting a full examination of its systems.

This is a significant concern, and it’s good to see Facebook looking to address such, particularly given that it was a key focus of the recent civil rights audit. 


If Facebook can improve its systems, and weed out algorithmic bias, that could go a long way to improving equality, while the lessons learned may also help other platforms address the same in their own systems.  

The move may also help Facebook repair relations with civil rights groups, who have lead a boycott of Facebook ads in July over the company’s refusal to address hate speech posted to the network by US President Donald Trump.

There’s a long way to go on this front, but addressing key elements like this could help Facebook show that it’s taking its responsibilities seriously in this respect.



Meta Publishes New Report on the Increasing Consumer Reliance on Business Messaging



Meta Publishes New Report on the Increasing Consumer Reliance on Business Messaging

Messaging has become an increasingly important connective tool for many businesses and consumers, with more than 20 billion messages now sent between people and brands on Messenger alone every month. It’s convenient, generally sees quick response, and is available within the apps that people are already comfortable with for their direct interactions. In fact, 64% of people now say they would prefer to message rather than call a business.

With this in mind, Meta recently partnered with the Boston Consulting Group on a survey of more than 6,500 respondents across the APAC region, in order to glean more insight into how APAC users are looking to use messaging for brand queries, and how businesses can better align with these shifts.

The 29-page report, which you can download here, includes a range of valuable insights into the importance, and value, of messaging interactions. Here’s a look at some of the key notes:

First off, the report looks at the growing adoption of business messaging, and how that’s changed throughout the pandemic.

The global lockdowns led to a significant boost in eCommerce activity, and as such, it’s little surprise to see the reliance on business messaging rise in recent years. But that’s also a key trend of note for brands – as more consumers conduct more of their interactions via messaging, and other online means, that, in turn, increases their expectation of the same options from other businesses.

The report also provides a somewhat surprising look at how often people are messaging with brands:

Meta messaging report

That’s a lot of activity, which seems more impactful than the raw numbers, in terms of messaging volume. A lot of consumers are interacting with brands every other day, so it’s not just that they’re using this as a supplementary connection channel, it’s fast becoming an essential connector for businesses.

The report also looks at the different ways in which brands can use messaging within their process:

Meta messaging report
Meta messaging report

As well as the key pain points for consumers when messaging with brands:

Meta messaging report

There are some interesting insights here, worth factoring into your planning. Really, if you’re not offering direct messaging as a connective option, or optimizing for it, you’re likely missing out. And while this data is APAC specific, most of these trends would likely hold in other regions as well, which could give you some food for thought for your planning, particularly as we head into the holiday sales push.

You can download Meta’s full ‘Business Messaging: The Quiet Channel Revolution across Tech’ report here.

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