Netflix user anger over 'racial targeting' of movie posters

(Credit: Working Title/Netflix)
(Credit: Working Title/Netflix)

Netflix has found itself accused of recommending movies to its users according to their race, with the use of potentially misleading posters.

Users first started posting snapshots of their recommendations on Twitter, enquiring with others as to whether they were having similar experiences.

Many noted that they were being recommended movies with notably white stars, including the likes of Love Actually, and the recent Kristen Bell film Like Father, but featuring the secondary black or Asian characters in the posters, seeming to indicate the possibility of racially profiling users.

US writer and podcaster Stacia L. Brown posted a few recent suggestions from the streaming service to her followers.

Others chimed in that they had noticed the same thing.

Another podcaster, London-based Tolani Shoneye, told The Guardian: “It’s intrusive. It’s the dark side of marketing. I noticed it a while ago with a Zac Efron film that I’d already seen, but Netflix kept showing me it as a Michael B Jordan movie.”

Brooklyn-based filmmaker Tobi Aremu also told the newspaper: “It’s beyond feeling duped. Because if something is black, I take no offence in being catered to. I am black, give me black entertainment, give me more – but don’t take something that isn’t and try to present like it is. I wonder what the makers of those shows and films think. If it was me, I would be very upset.”

Netflix rolled out a new ‘artwork personalisation’ algorithm last December, after it discovered that artwork was a key factor in users choosing movies to watch.

But it has denied that it works through any kind of racial profiling.

“We don’t ask members for their race, gender or ethnicity so we cannot use this information to personalize their individual Netflix experience,” it said in a statement.

“The only information we use is a member’s viewing history. In terms of thumbnails, these do differ and regularly change. This is to ensure that the images we show people are useful in deciding which shows to watch.”

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