Facebook has announced the appointment of civil rights attorney Roy L. Austin Jr. as its new VP of Civil Rights, a key role in its efforts to evolve its platform policies in order to maximize inclusion and representation across its apps.
As explained by Facebook:
“Roy joins Facebook from the law firm of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP, where he was a partner specializing in criminal defense and civil rights law. He brings with him over 25 years of experience working as both a civil rights lawyer and advocate, having begun his career as an honors trial attorney with the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice.”
Austin is also a former White House advisor, who worked on President Obama’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative, which looked to help address opportunity gaps faced by young people of color.
Austin’s expertise will help guide Facebook’s policy approaches as it looks to tackle racial inequality and flaws within its current systems.
Last June, in response to the #BlackLivesMatter protests, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri explained how Facebook was re-assessing all of its processes and policies to ensure that no societal groups were being disadvantaged by its systems and tools, while it was also looking to do its part to support under-represented communities.
Austin will play a key role in providing knowledge and insight to help inform these approaches, which could be a significant step in improving Facebook’s approach.
That could be particularly important in an algorithmic sense. Facebook’s infamous reliance on algorithms is what’s fueled the company’s growth, but like the human actions that they’re based on, algorithms can also be biased, which can further exacerbate inequity.
In assessing all of its systems, Facebook can move towards establishing clearer understanding of its flaws, while also working to potentially eliminate existing bias by re-weighting the systems it relies on to display content.
Austin’s resume is certainly impressive, and his contribution will provide significant benefit in these respects. Hopefully, that will help Facebook – the most used social platform in the world – in its mission to help address inequality, which may even extend beyond the platforms themselves.