Taking (kind of ) a break from the mayhem

Dear President Trump,

Sometimes I can be pretty darn naïve, if not downright dense. Yesterday I was talking with a colleague about a project she is starting that involves recruiting a very large cohort of LGBT people for a longitudinal study on mental health. She was telling me that the original recruitment plan involving Facebook is not going to work as hoped because they no longer allow targeted ads based on sexual orientation. She explained how different advocacy groups, like the Trevor Project, are trying to work with Facebook to reinstate this feature so they can continue intervening with young LGBT people who are contemplating suicide.

But here’s the me being dense part – it wasn’t until I read a WP article this morning about how Facebook is being sued by fair housing advocates because they allow real estate advertisers to systematically exclude whatever groups they want. Among the examples given are people who have indicated they may be single mothers, disabled veterans, or on food stamps. Apparently Facebook has been called out on this since 2016, particularly with regard to exclusion of racial and ethnic minority people from housing advertising. So, obviously if it is possible to target a particular group with something positive they might want to know about, it is equally possible to target them with something hateful or to purposely leave them out of things that should be available to everyone. Of course, as you and Putin know, it is also possible to more subtly influence specific groups to vote in particular ways or to stay home and not vote.

Letting go of being able to easily reach out to groups of people with positive things they might want is a tough trade-off, but given the vulnerability to myriad stonethrowers, it makes sense to pull the plug in this way. That said, my bet is that those with deep pockets will be able to work out ways around the restrictions while kids who might have been helped by programs like The Trevor Project will be at even greater risk of falling through the cracks.

Also, do you know how much was Facebook paid for that huge data dump to Cambridge Analytica? Seems like a relevant question I haven’t seen asked. Just saying….

May we be safe from bad actors who misuse social media.
May we be ok with restrictions that limit social media bad actors’ destructiveness.
May we be healthy enough not to undermine and attack one another via social media.
May we all be willing to use social media’s powers for good.

Tracy Simpson

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