Published On: Sun, Oct 30th, 2016

Is Facebook a Racist ‘Big Brother’

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Facebook targeted advertising is being lambasted as racist by some. At the same time people are wondering if it is such a good idea that Facebook can tell when its users are happy or sad.

According to a report in The Huffington Post, Facebook’s targeted ads could exclude certain races. Apparently if you place an ad on Facebook you can not only select the demographic of your targeted market, but also the race of the people who you wish to reach. This, as The Huffington Post points out, can allow racists to avoid providing goods and services to people of certain races or religions.

Well the advantages of targeted advertising are obvious. If you know the age group of the people most likely to buy your product or the income level, etc., you as a merchant want to ensure that your advertising reaches these people specifically. Traditional advertising formats such as in print media or television commercials do not give the advertiser any guarantees of reaching the desired target group.

Companies obviously want to get the most out of their advertising dollars. While we might see mostly beer and car commercials during football games or ads for makeup in women’s magazines, this does not mean that all of the people exposed to the ads are interested in the products for sale.

Now comes Facebook which offers companies the opportunity to place their advertisements on the pages of people who they know to be their consumers because of their listed age, likes, location, gender and even race. Great, right. Unfortunately if you are looking to sell or rent a home somewhere you can also use these filters to lets say avoid letting any Black people or Jews see your listing.

So even if it was not by design and is only a possibility by default, Facebook has opened an avenue for racists to limit their customer base for anything from housing, to restaurants and even local retail stores.

Steve Satterfield, privacy and public policy manager at Facebook, told the Post, “We take a strong stand against advertisers misusing our platform: Our policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate, and they require compliance with the law. We take prompt enforcement action when we determine that ads violate our policies.”

Fair enough, but what about the fears that many have that Facebook is like Big Brother from 1984 in that the company knows so much about its users. This criticism is not knew, but the strange thing here is that a billion people around the world willfully give over everything that there is to know about them to strangers. Even America’s spy agency the NSA would not be able to gather so much information about so many people any other way.

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And even if you choose to limit views of your Facebook posts to friends, remember Facebook can always see them and so can most government spy agencies.

England’s The Sun has also pointed out that Facebook knows if a user is depressed or otherwise mentally ill.

What you post on Facebook can be used to determine if you are at risk of depression or schizophrenia. The very language which you use in your posts can be deciphered by psychiatrists.

Dr Becky Inkster, lead researcher of a new study on this from Cambridge and Stanford Universities, said, “Facebook is hugely popular and could provide us with a wealth of data to improve our knowledge of mental health disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.”

There is nothing new to the idea that posts by others, being de-friended and so forth can make people more depressed. And obviously you know a Facebook friend who is generally angry and/or depressed based on the content of their posts. But now the idea is that mental health professionals can use a person’s Facebook page as a device to look into their personalities.

“It’s reach is particularly broad, too, stretching across the digital divide to traditionally hard-to-reach groups including homeless youth, immigrants, people with mental health problems, and seniors, ” said Dr Becky Inkster.

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So while we may have reason to be paranoid about Facebook, it may be a useful tool for preemptive care for at risk youth and adults. Think about it. If schools could have access to their students’ Facebook pages then they might be able to uncover hints that one might be at risk for suicide or being the next Columbine type killer.

At the very least they could spot students who may be depressed or showing early signs of illnesses like Bipolar Disorder. And parents should definitely approve of this. We all know that many teens simply do not know how to reach out for help and nowadays try to do so through social media.

So while Facebook may really be a Big Brother, it and other social media can be used for good as well as evil.

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