Facebook and Instagram to examine racist algorithms

Black woman with a phone Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Facebook says it wants to root out any bias in its systems or policies

Facebook has acknowledged that it needs to do more to combat racism on its platforms and is setting up two groups to examine its policies and algorithms.

Instagram’s Equity Team and Facebook’s Inclusive Product Council will look for bias in algorithms and work to make both platforms “safe and fair” for all.

Facebook has been criticised for failure to crack down on racist groups.

Others have complained about the suppression of black voices on Instagram.

In a statement, Instagram’s vice-president of product, Vishal Shah, said: “The racial justice movement is a moment of real significance for our company. Any bias in our systems and policies run counter to providing a platform for everyone to express themselves.

“While we’re always working to create a more equitable experience, we are setting up additional efforts to continue this progress.”

The details of how the two groups will work would be shared in coming months, Facebook said.

According to the US Pew Research Center, half of black users turn to social media to express political views or get involved in issues that matter to them.

Last month, Instagram’s head Adam Mosseri acknowledged it was “hearing concerns about whether we suppress black voices and whether our products and policies treat everyone equally”.

Black people on the platform were “often harassed”, fearful of being “shadow-banned” and disagreed with content takedowns, he said in a blog.

Shadow-banning is the act of blocking a user’s content without them realising – in Instagram’s case, it means content won’t appear on anyone’s feed unless they follow you.

Meanwhile rival platform Snap has launched its own investigation into racism within the company.

It follows comments from ex-employees who alleged in a Mashable article in June that there was a racist culture at the firm.

Snapchat has been criticised in the past for some of its filters, including one on the anniversary of the ending of slavery in the US which asked users to “smile and break the chains”. The firm later apologised for any offence it might have caused.

Previously it was criticised for one which contorted facial features and gave users the appearance of slanted eyes, while a Bob Marley filter was called out for encouraging blackface.

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