USC study unearths more concern over Facebook gender directed ads


A new study by the University of Southern California piles on to the long-standing idea that Facebook as a vast social media monolith has a hard time integrating fairness into its algorithms that serve up various messages to users.


Reuters reports that USC researchers’ findings support assertions that gender-directed ads slant the playing field “beyond what can be legally justified,” according to the study language.


Facebook accounts for “many signals to try and serve people ads they will be most interested in,” said spokesman Joe Osborne in response to the study, according to Reuters reporter Paresh Dave, “but we understand the concerns raised in the report.”


As for LinkedIn, which was used as the baseline, researchers found more equity in ad gender direction there, where LinkedIn engineering vice president Ashvin Kannan reportedly said the study’s results “align with our own internal review of our job ads ecosystem.”


The USC study could be a problem for Facebook, but it doesn’t come out of the blue. Some venues have been reporting on Facebook’s equilibrium problems for a while. The Intercept, in a piece by Sam Biddle April 9, wrote about a 2019 study that raised red flags.


“A groundbreaking 2019 study … provided strong evidence that Facebook’s ad algorithm isn’t just capable of bias, but is biased to its core,” Biddle wrote.


In prior coverage April 3, Biddle called Facebook’s ad platform “a race and gender stereotyping machine.”


“How exactly Facebook decides who sees what is one of the great pieces of forbidden knowledge in the information age, hidden away behind nondisclosure agreements, trade secrecy law, and a general culture of opacity,” Biddle wrote. “(Facebook algorithms) appear to deliver certain ads, including for housing and employment, in a way that aligns with race and gender stereotypes — even when advertisers ask for the ads to be exposed a broad, inclusive audience.”


Think about these concerns when pondering the future of Facebook as a corporate member of the top tech FAANG group so pivotal in the U.S. stock market.