Facebook Inc (FB) is not Racial Profiling, Rather They Target Your Likes

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After reports that Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) has been targeting its users accounts as if racial profiling based on what they believe your race is, the social media network has come out to explain how the target tool works.

Facebook representatives came out saying that the tool did not select according to race or ethnicity but, however, did select according to your ethnic activities and interests. Confusing, yes, because what Facebook claims they are doing and what they are not doing are two contradictory things. The company says it wants to offer advertisers access to different multicultural people but they are also saying that for them they are not doing any racial profiling at all. How one becomes an ethnic affinity target group without being seen as an ethnicity is astounding.

The representatives said that Facebook does not look at census data, names, photos, or private information but they do however focus on your language, where you are from and the interests you declare on your profile. An example is, if you liked the BET page and you have been following the #Blacklivesmatter, then you are classified as part of the African-American ethnic group.

This does not imply that you are black, according to Facebook reps, it only means that you show interest in black culture and its activities and, therefore, you might like such stuff to be advertised to you. One rep said, “They like African-American but we cannot and do not say to the advertiser that they are ethnically black. Facebook does not have a way for people to self-identify by race or ethnicity on the platform.” However Facebook is going to classify these groups, the issue is they still have to sit down and group things they see as belonging to a certain ethnic affinity of the three multicultural groups that can be targeted right now, (African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanics). In essence, they are finding ethnic stereotypes and in the end deciding which of their users fit that group.

Facebook, however, insist that the process is much more complex than that. If they identify a user as an African-American they would still not market something like NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton to them, because the person would have to like rap music or have shown interest in NWA or Ice Cube. The reps said that the company is aware that just because of someone’s ethnicity did not necessarily mean they fell under the stereotypes of every ethnic group. Just because a person is Asian-American does not mean they like anime or Master of None.

In academic terms, Facebook is trying to describe differences between “essentialist identity” and “performative identity”. Essentialist target marketing means that assuming anyone who is African-American will have certain core traits shared amongst all of them. The performative approach, however, explains that people are a collection of actions and that what we do every day has more bearing than whether you are black or white or that you were born in Mexico. So, Facebook is targeting the way you act and behave on its website rather than the box you tick under race when setting up an account.

Even after all these explanations, people are still not convinced by the advertising techniques. Advertising to certain ethnic groups is not something new, because when watching BET you still get adverts that target the African-American group. The same applies to Spanish channels. Facebook has had more trouble from people because racial profiling has cultural baggage attached to it.