Ever since Facebook was implicated in the 2016 election and it was exposed as being a haven for misinformation and other activities that don’t help public discourse and regularly push people to develop opinions based on falsehoods, the social media giant has been under scrutiny. This also extends to it’s popular advertising platform. As it turns out, Facebook was helping discrimination in the housing market by allowing advertisers to sort by race. Real estate has always had racial overtones. In the years after WWII when America was buying houses and moving to the suburbs, black home buyers were shut out of loans and whole parts of town due to red-lining. Now, advertisers can simply not advertise to certain racial groups which violates federal Fair Housing laws.
This past week, COO Sheryl Sandberg committed to giving a Civil Rights update after meeting with the Colors of Change organization to show how the social network is making changes within it’s platform to serve all users regardless of their racial background.
Facebook is struggling with it’s many scandals. Many have called for Mark Zuckerberg to step down as Chairman of the social media empire that includes Instagram and WhatsApp. Facebook has also been criticized for offering internet services to developing nations that push people towards their platforms rather than just providing internet services.
Facebook has made some changes in terms of who can advertise political posts. You now have to fill out a form and provide ID so that they know who is advertising topics related to politics or national security (the editorial staff here had to go through the process). However, does this mean that Facebook is making it any harder for foreign governments to use Facebook to change election results through propaganda? Does this mean that the ads you see on the platform are being presented to you fairly and without some implicit bias? Only time will tell but right now Facebook is struggling to adjust to being a primary communication agent and nearly a public utility considering their millions of users that interact and consume content and ads everyday.
Facebook needs to take responsibility for its platform, but the path forward is not clear. They are a publisher but they employ no editors and its algorithms have proven to be lacking in filtering out bad content.
As it turns out, we might have needed all those gatekeepers that have been derided.