back to article Meta algorithms push Black people more toward expensive universities, study finds

Meta's algorithms for presenting educational ads show signs of racial bias, according to researchers from Princeton University and the University of Southern California. This finding is described in a paper titled "Auditing for Racial Discrimination in the Delivery of Education Ads," by Basileal Imana, a postdoctoral …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Taking advice from social media

    And attending University.

    There’s a jarring disconnect here.

    And that applies to everyone.

    1. Catkin Silver badge

      Re: Taking advice from social media

      I think you're forgetting how Facebook started

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: Taking advice from social media

        My recollection is that Zuckerberg found it jarring...

  2. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

    I love it how black studies like this which are not racist of course, cimpletely forget about other minorities...

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      From the article (I haven't read the paper), it seems that this was not the study but the conclusion that was drawn from the study's data.

      Meaning 1) more expensive private universities are targeting adverts at black people in an effort to push up diversity stats and 2) Facebook allows advert targeting by race.

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Dan 55

        "2) Facebook allows advert targeting by race."

        Except for the glorious line-

        "We suspect that Meta's algorithms are not using race directly and the algorithmic effects we observe are driven by proxies and other historical data Meta may rely upon,"

        So it could be similar people of similar interest detected by the algorithm and it just so happens to align with black people.

        "1) more expensive private universities are targeting adverts at black people in an effort to push up diversity stats"

        Also wasnt that the racist policy which was seen to be a good thing? Trying to tell those black people what they should be doing.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Dan 55

          No.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        *Nobody* can read the paper, since it's not available yet. So I don't know why the register is writing an article on it. Completely unverifiable.

        1. Jamesit

          There's a link to the paper in the article: https://arxiv.org/abs/2406.00591

      3. Cris E

        Other way around, I think

        "We find that Meta’s algorithms steer ads to for-profit universities and universities with historically predatory marketing practices to relatively more Black users than the ads for public universities," Korolova told The Register.

        "If the ad for the for-profit college is shown to relatively more Black users than the ad for the public college, we can conclude that the algorithmic choices of the platform are racially discriminatory."

        The Reg needs to fix the headline.

    2. jospanner

      Racism is when you highlight discrimination of a particular minority. Got it.

    3. t245t Silver badge

      Black studies like this :o

      > I love it how black studies like this which are not racist of course, cimpletely forget about other minorities...

      That's because our ancestors weren't taken off in boats into slavery. Oh, wait they were actually. There was the Barbary Pirate raids on parts of Ireland, England, and Iceland from the late 16th to the early 19th centuries.

      1. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

        Re: Black studies like this :o

        t245:

        That's because our ancestors weren't taken off in boats into slavery. Oh, wait they were actually. There was the Barbary Pirate raids on parts of Ireland, England, and Iceland from the late 16th to the early 19th centuries.

        cow: Anotehr racist. You cant see the double standards in the title of the paper, pretending that only blacks or should i say american blacks suffer racism.

        Like i questioned where are the concerns by these authors about other minorities ?

        Secondly slaveyr DID exist in thelist o countries you mentioned by a different name. Serfdom etc is basically the same just a different smell.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The study didn't study Meta's algorithms' performance for other minorities because Meta simply makes it virtually impossible to study how its algorithms perform for other minorities.

  3. deadlockvictim

    Class or Race

    I'd be interested to see whether this is class-discrimination or race discrimination.

    Do poor white users see different ads to poor black users? Are poor whites also pushed towards predatory colleges.

    Do affluent white users see different ads to affluent black users?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Class or Race

      But then we'd need to be able to read the article, rather than the clickbait newsflash the researchers succeeded in making.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Class or Race

      That's a very interesting question but one that is virtually impossible to study given the tools Meta currently offers. That's why these and other researchers advocate for more transparency and access for public-interest study.

  4. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

    Telling the (Probable) Truth While Dodging the Issue

    It's not the ads themselves which are discriminatory. It's which groups are shown (and/or not shown) which ads that is discriminatory.

  5. Blergh

    It wasn't really clear if expensive universities were simply targeting prospective black students more than normal, or if this was a Meta issue.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's a Meta issue -- the targeting of the universities is identical in the experiments performed.

  6. Mike 137 Silver badge

    " "We’d like Meta to turn off its algorithmic ad delivery optimization in all advertising domains that relate to life opportunities, civil rights, and societally important topics ..."

    I'd like Meta to turn off its algorithmic ad delivery optimization full stop. As meta has for many folks effectively become a primary portal to the web at large, it has no legitimate right to filter or direct access to content (including ads) on the basis of assumed user characteristics. Ad placement (if any) should be based on page content relevance alone.

    It should also be said, however, that anyone who uses farcebook to research higher education opportunities should really expect to be fooled.

    1. ChrisElvidge Bronze badge

      I'd like Meta, and all other "social media" to turn off algorithmic delivery of everything. It has been shown (no references) that it makes (e.g.) people researching suicide are shown more pages advocating suicide.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'd like Meta to turn off.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If anything

    it's whites who are discriminated against by this algorithm. It seems Facebook doesn't think white students can afford or are not smart enough to study at the expensive universities.

    1. Catkin Silver badge

      Re: If anything

      That's assuming expensive universities are necessarily better and that attendees are paying with money they have, rather than predatory student loans.

    2. Cris E

      Headline is wrong

      "If the ad for the for-profit college is shown to relatively more Black users than the ad for the public college, we can conclude that the algorithmic choices of the platform are racially discriminatory."

      The headline has it backwards: this paper asserts that Blacks are not being shown real public colleges and are instead getting fed the for-profits. And honestly it's likely that the intent was to prey upon the poor and ill-educated of every race but the outcome ended up racially discriminatory due to skewed socio-economic distributions. That's not better, merely a distinction without difference.

    3. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

      Re: If anything

      If you want to be technical its all americans who are discriminated against by virtue of living in america, the land filled with aresholes trying to rip everyone off.

  8. Marty McFly Silver badge
    Alert

    There is no result from this study which is good for Meta

    There are only three possible results: Biased for, biased against, and unbiased.

    What if the results did NOT include affluent universities? Then they would be claiming discrimination going the other way. "It is discrimination for Meta to presume that Blacks cannot afford expensive universities."

    What if the results were 100% identical for all races? Then the study result would conclude the search is white-washed and does not include minority specific results. "It is discrimination for Meta to presume all races have the same educational needs."

    There is no outcome to this study which cannot be portrayed as discriminatory for Meta. Therefore the reason for the study must be something else. At a minimum this study's results serves to foster class warfare. Though it is likely more of a setup towards a future lawsuit and an 'undisclosed settlement' payday.

    1. Cris E

      Re: There is no result from this study which is good for Meta

      Mostly right, except that it wasn't expensive private schools. The study only compared for-profit to public universities. The end result is as you've described, but the cost barrier and academic levels are less restrictive so the findings are even more damning.

  9. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    It's just marketing ...

    ... in a Know Your Customer world.

    There's an anecdote about the person who walks into a shop and asks what the price on some item is. The shopkeeper's response, "How much money do you have?"

    The more predatory institutions might be buying ad space to place themselves in front of groups that they expect to have more scholarships and other kinds of "social equity" subsidies. There is an argument here for the government to be the buyer of educational resources. And then to hand them out in an equitable manner (publicly funded education). But that has its own problems.

    1. Bebu Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: It's just marketing ...

      There's an anecdote about the person who walks into a shop and asks what the price on some item is. The shopkeeper's response, "How much money do you have?"

      The late Albert Arkwright, the epitome of the shopkeeper, could gauge the contents of your purse or wallet within seconds, to the last happenny and have a sales strategy that would relieve you of that exact sum while offloading his old or expired stock.

      Meta and fellow travellers don't even come close to his pecuniary CAT scan and targeted marketing. ;)

  10. ecofeco Silver badge
    Flame

    Been going on for years

    https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/12/04/1013068/algorithms-create-a-poverty-trap-lawyers-fight-back/

    https://www.lawyerscommittee.org/lawyers-committee-endorses-the-eliminating-bias-in-algorithmic-systems-act/

    https://www.nacdl.org/Content/Challenging-the-Use-of-Secret-Algorithms-and-Techn

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Been going on for years

      Yes! And that's why change is needed...

      1. ecofeco Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Been going on for years

        Damn right.

  11. t245t Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Facebook seems to treat POCs differently

    > Meta algorithms push Black people more toward expensive universities

    Are the POCS unable to braoden the search to list the less expensive universities?

    > Facebook giant's advertising system seems to treat Whites and POC differently

    How does Facebook detect a POC on the end of the line? I mean, if you don't provide your race or gender then how can the racialists at Meta discriminate against you?

    Yet another set of woke activists seeing discrimination everywhere and making a good living out of it. Maybe Facebook should hire them on as their algorithms coordinators ;)

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Facebook seems to treat POCs differently

      "How does Facebook detect a POC on the end of the line? I mean, if you don't provide your race or gender then how can the racialists at Meta discriminate against you?"

      I don't mean to frighten you, but determining somebody's race for a social media company is very easy. If you have an InstaPintaTwitFace account, you've told them through the things you like, favor, thumbs up and all (and I mean all) of the places you visit online. Of course they aren't reading your messages (rolling eyes), but any posts in forums are fair game. They will also know what religion you agree with, how devout you are, if you've switched (and how many times). Many gay people join social media as a way to find other gay people so that's them outed from hour one. People with medical conditions will seek out information and support groups (a data buyer has to have Platinum membership to access that).

      There was a time when I was into spy fiction and non-fiction and still enjoy books by retired spooks when they write about data analysis and how they build a profile on somebody. If they were a field agent trying to be as vanilla as possible, what sorts of things they do and don't do to create a persona that won't attract attention, their "legend". It's funny that it's often food that can catch somebody out.

  12. PB90210 Bronze badge

    Is it not the case that the ad slingers have to bid for the ad slots?

    If it is, that would mean Meta would just be providing the 'description' of the mark (white, 35, drives a Mustang, reads NYT) and the ad slingers bid to fill that slot... meaning any bias would be more on the ad slingers side

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In today's implementation, Meta's AI-based algorithms figure all these things out on the advertisers' behalf, and the advertiser only provides the $$ amount they are willing to spend.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Some Context

    For those across the Pond from those of us in the Land of the Free, a little bit of context. This study looked at "for-profit universities and universities with historically predatory marketing practices". These schools are very different from the typical expensive private universities typified by the Ivy League (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivy_League). These are schools which cater to individuals who cannot get accepted to public universities. These schools are generally known their illegal/unethical business practices (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITT_Technical_Institute) which way overpromises and under delivers leaving students with expensive degrees or no degree at all.

    POC are the perfect target for these schools. This group is much less likely to have close relatives/friends who have gone to college and can help them understand the process and are thus more easily duped when it goes to university education.

  14. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Flame

    Meta makes money better

    And just about every item we interact with these days is only concerned with making money from everyone. Social Media appeared initially to help people interact and make friends, originally everything was just trying to be helpful to all the users. These days all us users are just "lunch" to Meta and every other corporation.

  15. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Cost doesn't matter

    In the US it's not very hard to get approved for student loans since aside from a President circumventing law to discharge the loans, there's almost no way to not pay them. Many universities are keen to fill quotas that have been thought up by their DIE staff so recruiting is aggressive and the bar is set much lower for entrance. Given the choice between a bog standard State University and a nobby old Uni with brick buildings covered in ivy, most new students would pick the latter. There was no Silver spoon for me and I didn't have the confidence to sign up for a stack of loans and get a degree that might turn out to be something I only thought I'd like as a career. As it turns out, I have stuck with engineering so I might have shaved a couple of years off of my pursuit, but I was debt free when I graduated and heartily recommend that as a goal even if it takes longer than 4 years.

  16. mevets

    FaceBook.

    I finally made a facebook account.

    Meta seems to either think I am black, or am interested in pseudo-erotic images with a distinct African-American theme.

    I wish I had searched marketplace for some howlin wolf or even drake artifacts; but I did nothing, on a quarantined system

    with virgin second factor, the initial feed was all African-American erotica.

    Kudos to Meta that it didn't adopt a cisnormative perspective.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FaceBook.

      Wow. And I thought i was being categorised poorly. My tiktok feed is nothing but 9yo ballerinas, and I don't like 9yo ballerinas.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The paper is available here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2406.00591 and the data for it is here: https://ant.isi.edu/datasets/addelivery-education/

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