Thursday, March 04, 2021

Official Information About COVID-19 Is Reaching Fewer Black People on Facebook

According to data from The Markup’s Citizen Browser project, there are major disparities in who is shown public health information about the pandemic

By: Corin Faife and Dara Kerr

Originally published on themarkup.org

Official information about COVID-19 safety and vaccines is reaching fewer Black people on Facebook than other demographic groups, according to data from The Markup’s Citizen Browser project.  

The Markup’s findings come as several reports point to racial disparities in the U.S. around who has been able to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Experts cite several factors to explain the discrepancy—medical mistrust due to a history of discrimination and a lack of vaccination sites in Black neighborhoods, as well as gaps in reliable access to information on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines and how and where to get them. 

Our panel consists of more than 2,500 Facebook users across the country who automatically share information about their news feeds with us. The Markup examined 4,104 sponsored posts containing COVID-19 safety and vaccine information on the platform between Dec. 1 and March 1, of which 464 came from regional, national, and international public health agencies. We included any sponsored post containing the word “vaccine,” “vaccination,” “COVID,” or “coronavirus” from a public health agency.  

We found that, overall, only 3 percent of Black people on our panel were shown information from these public health agencies during this time period, compared to 6.7 percent of Latino panelists, 6.6 percent of White panelists and 9.5 percent of Asian or Asian-American panelists. None of the Native American or Middle Eastern panelists in our dataset were shown any sponsored posts on vaccination or COVID-19 safety from public health agencies, although this may be because of the low numbers of panelists in these demographic groups. Review our data here.  

When it came to posts from the nation’s top public health agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the disparity held: Only 1.5 percent of Black panelists were shown sponsored posts with information related to COVID-19 safety and vaccines, compared to 4.5 percent of White panelists. In general, minorities were shown fewer public health posts from HHS, with those posts appearing in the feeds of 1.7 percent of Latino panelists and less than one percent of Asian/Asian-American panelists. Again, no Native American or Middle Eastern panelists were shown any of the posts.

“The Black community has been the focus of anti-vax conspiracies,” said Naomi Smith, a sociologist at Federation University Australia who studies vaccine misinformation on social media. “The fact that accurate information is being withheld from that community is very concerning.”

When asked for comment, Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever said in an email, “Given its limited number of participants, data from The Markup's ‘Citizen Browser’ is not an accurate reflection of the full breadth of people who see ads on Facebook.” She added that Facebook doesn’t offer ad targeting based on race or use race data to show people ads.

“All advertisers must abide by our longstanding non-discrimination policy,” Lever said. “We're focused on helping everyone access reliable information from health experts about COVID vaccines; and a big part of this effort has included helping government organizations and NGOs run free ads on our platform.”

HHS did not respond to multiple phone and email requests for comment.

Michael Lanza, a spokesperson for the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Scott Smith, public information officer for the Minnesota Department of Health, both said their departments have taken broad steps, beyond social media, to reach minority communities with COVID-19 information. 

Concerned about mounting vaccine misinformation spreading across its platform, Facebook announced last month that it would give $120 million in advertising credits to public health departments and nonprofits. Part of the idea, it said, was to “amplify” accurate information for groups that have been hardest hit by the virus and also have low vaccination rates, including Black, Latino, and Native American communities.

We chose to limit our inquiry to posts by public health departments to avoid unintentionally including fundraising or other types of posts by nonprofits that were not public service announcements. 

Neither HHS nor Facebook responded to our questions about how the targeting choices were made specifically for these ads or what information Facebook gives HHS page managers about the demographics of its ad viewers. Regardless of an advertiser’s choices, Facebook’s algorithms do play a role in deciding who sees which ads.

The social media company removed ad targeting by race after a 2016 report in ProPublica that exposed discriminatory ad targeting based on “ethnic affinity.” In 2018, the Department of Housing and Urban Development sued Facebook over the company algorithm responsible for ad targeting, saying it led to housing discrimination based on race, religion, and national origin.

When asked to comment on the case, Facebook’s Lever said, “We have gone above and beyond any other digital advertising platform to prevent discrimination in ads.” She added that in 2019, Facebook “restricted targeting for ads offering housing, employment and credit in the U.S.”

HUD referred The Markup to the U.S. Department of Justice when asked about the status of the case. DOJ spokesperson Kristina Mastropasqua said, “No comment.”   

There are limitations to our analysis: The Citizen Browser panel represents only a small fraction of Facebook users in the U.S. and skews older and whiter than the general population. Our panel is particularly short on Latino Facebook users, and Black, Asian, Middle Eastern and Native American Facebook users are also underrepresented compared to the U.S. population as a whole. But it provides a unique window into the choices made by Facebook’s algorithms.  

Since panelists provide us with details about their age, race, and gender when they join the project, our data gives a glimpse into who is and who isn’t receiving COVID-19 PSAs that would be difficult to find elsewhere.

Fadi Quran, campaign director for Avaaz, a nonprofit advocacy group, said the findings point to a troubling pattern: Facebook’s algorithm is not putting COVID-19 and vaccine information from accurate, reliable sources into everyone’s feeds.

“It’s not a surprise that the algorithm is dumb and racist. But it’s still shocking,” Quran said. “Until we can crack open Facebook’s algorithm, we will never know how bad this problem is.”

Avaaz found in August that health misinformation on Facebook was viewed by users four times more often than accurate information from government agencies. 

Many Black and Latino communities have legitimate concerns that could lead them to take a wait-and-see approach to vaccination, said Dr. Oni Blackstock, founder and executive director of Health Justice. This makes well-executed public health campaigns even more important, she added.

“If the correct person is providing the information, it could make a difference,” Blackstock said. “It’s not like people have bizarre reasons for waiting and seeing; it’s more that a lot of people don’t have the information they need, or it hasn’t been presented to them in an accessible way.”

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management released a study, partially funded by Facebook, that found that public health PSAs showing people are getting the COVID-19 vaccine are key in combating vaccine hesitancy. That’s because when people see others getting inoculated, they’re more likely to do the same. 

“It’s what social scientists call homophily, the idea that birds of a feather flock together,” said Dean Eckles, co-author of the study and an associate professor at MIT. He said people who are anti-vaccination make up a small percentage of the population, but “there’s still vaccine hesitancy, and that can be an issue when it’s clustered in certain communities.”

One of the reasons for vaccine hesitancy in the Black community is the lack of trustworthy information on social media sites, said Brandi Collins-Dexter, a visiting fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center. In a June report, she found that the Black community had especially been left in an “information vacuum” during the pandemic—one that’s been filled with misinformation. 

“Because all of this is unfolding on the ground in disproportionate ways, you’re seeing these communities particularly experience devastating consequences for un-reined misinformation,” Collins-Dexter said. “Those far-reaching stories online then become the new mythology that people latch onto.”

This article was originally published on The Markup and was republished under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Last Blog Post

No longer considered clever and not worth internetter’s time when Facebook is king, everybody has a YouTube channel and one can get a quick information fix with a mere glance at a tweet or an instagram post, the blog could be on par with the Pony Express as an entity that was spectacularly useful for a relatively short period of time.

Today’s doses of information hit the public with targeted squirts in real time. Even the U.S. president has embraced social media via twitter in sending his observations directly to Americans minus the various filters and channels that were employed by officials in the past.


The Last Blog Post

So here it is and so shall it remain until powers that be unplug or wipe or destroy the servers that give it a seemingly everlasting electronic life. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Blogs Are Back? “For the Love of God, Please Don’t Start Another Podcast.”

"Yikes, what is the function of this blog anymore?
~ Tavi Gevinson, 2016 

"It would be nice if we could get back to the point where blogging was popular... Preferred social media methods these days leave a lot to be desired."
 ~ Dave Lucas, 2018

The rise of Facebook, twitter, sina-weibo, WeChat and Instagram is generally reagrded as "the beginning of the end of blogs." Not so fast! While indeed it is true that many great blogs have either disapperared*, suspended publishing or lie fallow - hibernating literary giants.

Bloggers played an important role in the early structuring and shaping of what would come to be known as social media. Bloggers were de facto newspaper or magazine editors, chronicling life not to the beat of a daily or monthly deadline, but at whim. The thrill of "instant publishing" everyone is now so familiar with began with the blog.

RELATED:
Have We Hit Peak Podcast?
If you are able to jump the paywall, The New York Times is evaluating the future of podcasts.
Read "Have We Hit Peak Podcast? If past experience (cough, blogs) is any indication, a shakeout is nigh." Here's an excerpt or two:
"...the frequency with which podcasts start (and then end, or “podfade,” as it’s coming to be known in the trade) has produced a degree of cultural exhaustion. We’re not necessarily sick of listening to interesting programs; but we’re definitely tired of hearing from every friend, relative and co-worker who thinks they’re just an iPhone recording away from creating the next 'Serial.'"
Unlike blog metrics, "...whether anybody finds that podcast or listens to it and the bounce rate — who knows?”

Webloggers' humble beginnings can be traced back to 1994 and Swarthmore College student Justin Hall, who for 11 years documented his life online to the tune of 4800+ pages from nearly a decade of constant writing, which he posted on his site, which is still up and active at www.links.net. The term "weblog" was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997.


Many bloggers of note (including yours truly and Xiaxue) employed Blogger, a free weblog-publishing service which began in 1999 that allows multi-user blogs with time-stamped entries. It was developed by Pyra Labs, which was purchased by Google in 2003. By December 2004, Merriam-Webster declared “blog” its “Word of the Year.” The blogosphere was studied, analyzed, dissected and scrutinized. Much ado was made regarding popular blogs and ethical blogging. Fast-forward to the age of facebook and twitter, and it no longer mattered. Poof! Just like that, the craze factor of blogging ended. Yet there are still a bunch of blogs and bloggers that press on.



Saturday, May 04, 2019

May The 4th Be With You! "Selected Shorts" w/ Major TV Stars, Sat. 5/4 UAlbany


It’s story time… for adults!

Meet Jane Kaczmarek, a "Selected Shorts" performer for the past 16 years, best known for her role as Lois, Malcolm’s temperamental mother, on Malcolm in the Middle;
Anthony Rapp, who currently plays Lt. Commander Paul Stamets, Star Trek’s first openly gay character, on Star Trek: Discovery, and star of the original cast of “Rent” on Broadway;
and Alysia Reiner, who stars as interim warden Natalie “Fig” Figueroa in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.
Public Radio International’s wildly popular Selected Shorts series and podcast comes to town offering a unique evening of literature in performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 4, in the UAlbany Performing Arts Center on the uptown campus, 1400 Washington Avenue, Albany.
The event has a "Readers and Writers" theme with a suite of stories celebrating writers and their readers.
Selected Shorts is produced by Symphony Space in New York City and broadcast on more than 150 stations to about 300,000 listeners around the country. The "Selected Shorts" podcast consistently ranks as one of the most popular podcasts on iTunes, with more than 100,000 downloads each week.
Tickets purchased on the day of the show (pending availability) are $20 for the general public and $15 for students, seniors and UAlbany faculty-staff.
The box office will open at noon on Saturday for sales at the day of show prices.
For reservations and more information, contact the PAC Box Office: (518) 442-3997 or visit https://www.albany.edu/pac/box_office_info.shtml
The "Selected Shorts" event is sponsored by the NYS Writers Institute and the UAlbany Performing Arts Center and made possible with support from by the University at Albany Foundation, University Auxiliary Services, and Residence Inn by Marriott.


Thursday, February 21, 2019

5 Instagram Strategy Tips from Bloomberg


Monday, January 14, 2019

Online Memoir Writing Class: A Few Spots Left!


Have YOU ever considered writing a memoir?



If so, there’s an online class coming up that you can’t afford to miss.

“Memoirama” will be taught by Marion Roach Smith, a former New York Times staffer and author of four books, who has coached hundreds of very successful writers. Marion is a friend of The New York State Writers Institute and is offering this class as a fundraiser for us. All proceeds will go to the NYSWI. We are grateful to Marion for offering us this fundraising opportunity.

Marion is currently listed in the number one spot on Google under “memoir coach,” and previously taught a consistently sold-out class in Troy, New York from which she wrote her book, The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life (Grand Central, 2011). Join her –

Friday, December 28, 2018

Consumer Advocate: AT&T promised to fix my bill. Why hasn't it?

AT&T promises Martin Gorfinkel that it will merge three of his bills into one and send him a $25 credit. But it doesn't, even though he has everything in writing. How do you hold AT&T accountable?
 


Q: I have service from AT&T 
for landline, cell phone, and DSL. 

That generates three phone bills each month. I contacted 
AT&T through their chat in May. 

A representative told me that they could not consolidate my 
cellular service into one bill, but that they could merge my
 DSL and landline charges. A representative said it could take 
up to two months to process the order.
AT&T continued sending me three separate bills for the next 
two months. 

I initiated another chat in August. This time, a representative
 said all three services could be consolidated on one statement 
immediately.

Also, AT&T promised a $25 credit on my account for the 
inconvenience. 
Nothing has changed with my billing, and I have not seen a 
$25 credit. 

How can AT&T be held to account for the information
provided on their chat lines?
 -- Martin Gorfinkel, Mountain View, Calif.

A: If AT&T said it would merge your bills -- and send you a $25 credit --
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