Systemic, socio-demographic differences of content and ads exposure on social media

Equality of opportunity requires that members of different demographic groups with the same qualifications be shown the same ad for housing, employment, or credit at similar rates. This definition is important because US law allows differences in ad delivery across demographic groups if disparities in qualifications across populations mediate those differences. Further, it is the definition that social media companies themselves are likely to use to defend against claims of ad discrimination. Many papers have run experiments on platforms to explore the effect of targeting on ad viewership: For instance, recent work studying discrimination in on line ads has indicated that, at least in some experimental contexts, advertisements on major ad platforms can be delivered to demographic groups at different rates. Almost no studies that we have found explored the same questions by collecting data about what users are seeing. This user-side data is essential because it may reveal population-level patterns in differential content viewership rather than the one-off contexts in the above works. A novel long-term dataset will enable us to study these effects. We propose to answer the following research question: Conditioning on region, education, industry, and income, are there differences in the rates that different demographic groups are shown ads for housing, employment, and credit?

MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307