Jinyan Zang, Brookings Institution - Facebook algorithms linked to discrimination

Jinyan Zang, Brookings Institution
Facebook algorithms linked to discrimination


Homer wrote it 2800 years ago —  “In unity there is strength.”

That idea is so simple, so obvious, so enduring, that four countries, BelgiumBoliviaGeorgia and Bulgaria have it as their national motto.  Our national motto, e pluribus unum (from the many, one) is a subtle improvement.  For Americans — and the slogan has been on our National Seal since 1782 — the difference is that unity is all you need, an end in itself. A beginning, too, from which national benefits like strength, justice, harmony and prosperity all flow.

When, in its historic decision of 1954, Brown vs Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court proclaimed national unity in law.  The court overturned 60 years of precedence, to say that no American government, federal, state or local, could legally discriminate against anyone on the basis of their race, religion or national origin. And, the court ruled, the concept of “separate but equal” was a cover for intentional inequality and could no longer be considered legal.

All children in America were entitled to public education because they were all parts of a national unity, a country, you might say, in a united state. What’s driven America from a nation most proud of “our freedom” to a place where citizens assert “my freedom” by endangering public health by refusing to wear a mask, a place where the most cherished, if unadvertised freedom is to spend money as you choose?

It is in service to that “freedom” that Donald Trump has been a tax cheat all his life.

It is in service to that monetization of “freedom,” that a hugely profitable industry has grown.  It’s business is influencing people’s spending choices in everything from clothes or exercycles to politicians.

It works by separating people, the better to target them. It’s an industry whose separations foster discrimination, inequality and disunity.  At its heart is Facebook.

“My research demonstrates that Facebook’s current advertising algorithms can discriminate by race or ethnicity.” So wrote our guest today Harvard Kennedy School Fellow Jinyan Zang in an essay published by the Brookings Institution.  And he goes on to show how Facebook’s algorithms isolating markets can produce abusive discrimination in housing, employment and lending.



Jinyan Zang is a Fellow at the Public Interest Tech Lab at Harvard Kennedy School. His recent article on racially discriminating advertizing on Facebook was published by the Brookings Institution.,





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