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Would A More Diverse Facebook Help?

Yesterday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced a second day of questioning from lawmakers looking to understand how the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica may have gained access to the personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users.

My colleague, Jonathan Vanian, has an excellent recap here.

Compared to the relatively staid session with the Senate on Tuesday, the members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee dug more deeply into the nuts and bolts of Facebook’s data collection processes.

But one set of questions has ignited an interesting debate on why the company’s dismal diversity numbers should be part of the conversation.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina used his allotted time yesterday to quiz Zuckerberg on the company’s workforce.

“In 2017 you’ve increased your black representation from two to three percent,” he began, “a small increase, but better than none.” He then asked Zuckerberg to commit to publishing the company’s retention numbers disaggregated by race and if he planned to add a black executive to the company’s all-white leadership team. “Not only you and Sheryl [Sandburg], but David [Wehner], Mike [Schroepfer] and Chris [Cox],” he said, literally waving a printout of their bios and headshots in Zuckerberg’s direction. “This does not represent America,” he said.

Online chatter began immediately, with many asking a not entirely surprising question. Why is he bringing something up that had nothing to do with data privacy or Russian interference in the 2016 election?

In theory, a diverse set of employees (with influence) would be better able to identify ways their product might harm certain customers that a majority-culture leadership team might miss (or ignore) in a company’s quest for domination.

For Facebook, that can mean anything from identity theft and discrimination to the very troubling implications of the unchecked hate speech that fueled widespread violence against the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

While data breaches and unauthorized “scraping” are a bummer for everybody, those leading to financial harms are often more problematic for people of color, people living on fixed or low incomes, or people from other marginalized communities who are already operating with little financial wiggle room and sub-optimal access to banking and credit systems.

Similarly, hate speech and abuse are disproportionately directed at women, people of color, LGBTQ, Muslims, etc., on the platform, and are often not caught by content reviewers.

Civil rights leaders have warned for years that data and algorithms can make online profiling and discrimination even easier. This has been a problem for Facebook, specifically with discriminatory housing ads, as a ProPublica investigation has shown.

But the Cambridge Analytica problem also has a diversity component.

The misinformation that was used in the targeted ads was often dangerously racialized and designed to stoke the cultural divisions which are deeply embedded in America’s psyche.

The USA Today’s Jessica Guynn reported on the issue last November after Rep. Terri Sewell from Alabama questioned Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch on the company’s inability to keep Russian racist propaganda off their platform.

In one example she cited, a manipulative re-working of history aimed to inflame African American Facebook users and get them to follow a fake Russian account called Blacktivist. “Who are your vetters and are they a diverse group of people?” she asked.

So yes, theoretically diversity could have helped, but only if the “diverse” employees feel empowered, valued and safe at work – the inclusion piece of the diversity issue.

Here’s one study to post on your Facebook profile.

Two U.K. based academic researchers, Alison Reynolds and David Lewis, sought to discover why some cognitively diverse teams did better than others. Turns out, psychological safety was an important factor.

“The groups that performed well treated mistakes with curiosity and shared responsibility for the outcomes,” they write in HBR. They say psychological safety means that people understand that they won’t be punished or humiliated for surfacing ideas, questions, and concerns, or making mistakes.As a result, people could express themselves, their thoughts and ideas without fear of social retribution.”

Which is partly why Butterfield’s question about retention was such a smart one. If “minority” employees don’t feel valued at Facebook, why should anyone else feel safe on the platform?

On Point

Credit-worthy black and Latinx customers are routinely denied mortgages at higher rates than white onesWe’ve reached another disappointing 50-year benchmark. Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act banned race-based discrimination in lending, African Americans, Latinx, Asian, and Native borrowers are routinely denied conventional mortgages in 61 metropolitan areas including Atlanta, Ga., St. Louis, Mo., and Philadelphia, Pa. Black applicants were turned away at significantly higher rates than whites in 48 cities, Latinx in 25, Asians in nine and Native Americans in three, while Washington, D.C. discriminated against everyone. The examiners studied 31 million records over a year-long period.“It’s not acceptable from the standpoint of what we want as a nation: to make sure that everyone shares in economic prosperity,” said Thomas Curry, the former Comptroller of the Currency.Reveal News

The news that John Boehner has joined the board of a cannabis company raises some important questions
“My thinking…has evolved,” the former Speaker tweeted, saying the drug now needed to be de-scheduled for health and research reasons. Cool, said the world. Can you help with the disproportionate number of black cannabis users who are languishing in prison? Or better still, can you help remove systemic barriers so people of color can enter this nearly $7 billion industry? “There is an obvious chasm between the number of people of color who have been jailed for simple possession during the ‘war on drugs’ and the number of white men who are starting to make millions in profit from the industry,” reports The Guardian.
The Guardian

The race-based wage gap of congressional staffers
LegiStorm, a directory of congressional staffers, published an analysis of congressional salaries yesterday, and found an alarming disparity in pay based on race in both houses. Here’s just one example: In the Senate, white staffers made approximately $4,800 more than AAPI staffers, $1,800 more than Latino staffers and $7,000 more than Black staffers. Expect lots of statements today; here’s one from Don Bell, Director, Black Talent Initiative: “Today, the Congress as a whole has been exposed again,” he says. “Not only is Capitol Hill failing to actively recruit and hire eminently qualified people of color, it is failing to fairly value the experiences and service of its very own staffers of color, some of the most talented policy and communications minds our nation has to offer.” Follow #PayStaffersOfColor for more news and updates.
Legistorm

The number of black-owned independent bookstores is growing
It seems to be an interesting bellwether, at once a statement about gentrification, affordable commercial real estate, a growing demand for curated Afrocentric and intersectional fare, and a need for a communit space. In 1999 there were 325 such stores, by 2014 there were only 54. But today there are at least 108, according to Troy Johnson, who runs an online book club and database. This piece profiles several new bookstore owners, who come from a wide variety of relevant backgrounds – including professor, author, and CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill. “I’ve written books, I’ve had New York Times bestsellers, but I’ve never done anything so gratifying,” he says.
Publishers Weekly

The Woke Leader

For black pregnant women and mothers, the issues are life and death
More than one raceAhead reader has shared this important story with me, and always, they say, in tears. It begins with a wrenching story of a desperately ill and largely ignored pregnant woman and the ultimate loss of her nearly full-term child. But it illustrates the larger crises of black infant mortality, and the deaths or near-deaths of their mothers. Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts, and no amount of education or training makes a difference. Please read and share. Monica Simpson, who is quoted in the piece, is the executive director of SisterSong and a member of the Black Mamas Alliance; both are advocacy groups doing important work on this issue. You can follow Black Mamas here and SisterSong here.
New York Times

The director of photography for ’13th’ documentary on the visual elements that helped tell the story
People of color make up 30% of the general population of the U.S., but more than 60% of the incarcerated population. Why? This was the story that director Ava DuVernay set out to tell in her extraordinary documentary, 13th, which addresses the criminalization and mass incarceration of black (and brown) people. But to tell that story effectively using visual cues, she relied on Kira Kelly, one of the two directors of photography. Kelly is a visionary in her own right. In this interview, she explains how the locations and the framing pushed documentary norms to amplify the emotion of the interviews and subject matter.
Mic

Hashtagging past and present segregation
Blair L.M. Kelley, associate professor of history at North Carolina State University has created the hash #StudyingSegregation to “track the history, the present, and the afterlives of legal and extra-legalsegregation in the US,” she tweeted. “Let’s hash news, scholarly studies, and community-based work that documents segregation past and present.” Here’s one example: Trump judicial nominee Wendy Vitter refuses to say whether she supports segregation, particularly ironic since she would oversee the district where the case establishing legal separation was heard. (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896.)
Studying Segregation

Quote

In the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens…The arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race, while they are on a public highway, is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution. It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds…What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments, which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens?
Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan