When a company like Facebook needs to take action based on their user’s data, it is impossible for a human to go through and analyze everything in an efficient way. This is why computer algorithms are so important for the success of many digital companies. While these algorithms can help companies make billions of dollars, they can also get them in trouble, which seems to be what happened to Facebook recently.
Facebook has an algorithm that looks at what users say in regards to their education, employment, and many other things. Based on this data, marketers can choose to target very specific people, which is why their ads have the potential to be so effective.
It was recently discovered that Facebook saw a number of people who listed “Jew Hater” for their educational field, or the “Nazi Party” for their employer (among other things). This triggered their algorithm to list those as categories that marketers could target. So, if you were starting a new advertising campaign you could choose to only show your ads to men who were 18-25 years old and worked for the ‘Nazi Party.’
Not surprisingly, this was offensive to many people in general, and Facebook’s official response was to remove these types of things as they are discovered. Facebook doesn’t want to profit off of advertisements that targeted these types of groups. They have also stopped the auto-generating of groups based on algorithms until they can find an effective way to prevent this type of thing from happening.
They said in a blog post, “To help ensure that targeting is not used for discriminatory purposes, we are removing these self-reported targeting fields until we have the right process in place to help prevent the issue.”
While it was obviously not Facebook’s intent to do this type of thing, it is important to remember that businesses are responsible for the actions of their algorithms. It is, of course, understandable how things type of thing can happen, and nobody is suggesting that Facebook is a racist company. Taking swift action to remove the targeting and steps to prevent it in the future is a good course of action.