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Facebook apologizes for mislabeling video of black men as primates

Facebook apologized for a “clearly unacceptable error” after the artificial intelligence on the social media network mislabeled a video of black men as “primates.”

The Daily Mail originally posted a video to Facebook in June 2020 titled: “White man calls cops on black men at marina.” The video has nearly 10 million views on Facebook.

Facebook users who viewed the video were shown an auto-generated prompt asking if they would like to “keep seeing videos about Primates,” the New York Times reported.

While humans are indeed primates, most people would associate the word “primates” with animals such as monkeys, lemurs, and apes, and not people.

Former Facebook content design manager Darci Groves noticed the prompt, and voiced her concerns on Twitter.

“Um. This ‘keep seeing’ prompt is unacceptable, @Facebook,” Groves wrote in a tweet, which included a screenshot of the prompt. “And despite the video being more than a year old, a friend got this prompt yesterday. Friends at FB, please escalate. This is egregious.”

Facebook apologized for the prompt, and disabled its topic recommendation feature.

“This was clearly an unacceptable error and we disabled the entire topic recommendation feature as soon as we realized this was happening so we could investigate the cause and prevent this from happening again,” Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever said in a statement.

“As we have said, while we have made improvements to our AI we know it’s not perfect and we have more progress to make,” Lever continued. “We apologize to anyone who may have seen these offensive recommendations.”

In July 2020, Facebook announced that it had launched new equity teams to study if the company’s algorithms are racially biased.

This isn’t the first time that the use of AI has resulted in questionable results. In 2015, Google’s Photo app tagged photos of black people as “gorillas.” The search engine giant apologized for the error.

In 2016, Google came under fire again for image search results. At the time, a Google image search for “three black teenagers” resulted in photos of mugshots, but a search of “three white teenagers” resulted in groups of smiling young people.

In April, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission warned that artificial intelligence technology “can produce troubling outcomes – including discrimination by race or other legally protected classes.” The FTC threatened companies, “Hold yourself accountable– or be ready for the FTC to do it for you.”

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