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Facebook Forms ‘Equity And Inclusion’ Teams To Analyze How Minority Users Are Affected By Its Algorithm

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Facebook and Instagram announced it will develop teams to analyze potential racial bias on the social media platforms to see if the platforms differently affect minority users, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The teams were created partly in response to advertiser boycotts of the company due to internal policies and employee dissatisfaction with official responses to social issues, and the company previously hesitated to study whether the platforms have a different impact on minorities, the WSJ reported.

The Instagram “equity and inclusion team” will study how the algorithm is applied to black, Hispanic, and minority users versus how it applies to white users, while the Facebook “inclusivity product team” will consult with black users and experts on race, according to the WSJ.

“The racial justice movement is a moment of real significance for our company,” Instagram’s head of product Vishal Shah said, the WSJ reported. “Any bias in our systems and policies runs counter to providing a platform for everyone to express themselves.”

Last year, company officials restricted employees from examining racial impacts on the social media platform without permission from a group of senior executives including Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, the WSJ reported.

Instagram accounts whose activity suggested they were black were 50% more likely to have their profile disabled, according to an internal study of Instagram account disable policy changes, the WSJ reported.

Facebook claims it doesn’t collect data on race from users, but uses a proxy called “multicultural affinity” based on content users interact with, according to the WSJ. In a statement, the company expressed concerns about the accuracy of the proxy as a measure of race, the WSJ reported.

Instagram spokeswoman Stephanie Otway said the internal analysis was inaccurate since the proxy is unreliable, the WSJ reported.

“It’s early; we plan to share more details on this work in the coming months,” Otway said, according to the WSJ.

The new teams will discuss potential design features aimed at supporting minority users with product teams, according to the company, the WSJ reported.

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