Facebook Tells Politician to Identify as ‘Chinese Restaurant’

Margaret Chin, the City Council member representing Chinatown, received a notification from Facebook a few days ago that suggested she change the category of her official account on the social media platform from the current “Government Official” to “Government Official · Chinese Restaurant.” Chin was not happy. She said the alert was apparently based on deep-rooted stereotypes of Asian immigrants, and it was absurd especially in May, which is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Her angry tweet and demand for Facebook to explain its move were supported by many followers on Twitter. The company said on May 11 that it took the incident seriously and was investigating.

Chin, who made history in 2009 when she became the first Chinese elected to represent one of the oldest Chinatowns in the country, has been in office since. A few days ago, she received the alert, “suggesting” that she designate her official account “NYC Council District 1 – Council Member Margaret S. Chin” as “Government Official · Chinese Restaurant” rather than the original “Government Official.” The alert said if she didn’t respond in a week, the re-designation would occur automatically.

On her Twitter account, Chin said: “I’m glad that @Facebook recognizes that I have a Chinese name but not every Chinese American elected official runs a Chinese restaurant.”

In a statement she issued afterward, Chin said the notification from Facebook sends a disappointing message to its users with diverse backgrounds, and “While making this correction presented only a minor inconvenience, I have to wonder how many other Asian Americans and communities of color have felt marginalized, misrepresented or stereotyped – either directly or indirectly – by this technology.”

Many others were outraged too, including Jeff Yang, a columnist for CNN:

Sarah Pollack, a spokesperson for Facebook, told the World Journal on May 11 that the company took the matter seriously and had spent the whole day investigating. It turned out the alert was sent out automatically by its categorization system with the purpose of better categorizing public accounts. Pollack said Facebook would like to deeply apologize to the council member, and will keep investigating to find out what caused the system to make this mistake.

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