If you’ve ever accessed more than one Netflix account, you’ll notice that the thumbnail art for the same shows can change.
Turns out this goes beyond mere occasional changes to keep things fresh, rather the recommendations algorithm is going perhaps a little too far and appears to be adjusting the images for users based on race and gender – even if said images aren’t a good reflection of the film or series itself.
“Rise of Charm City” podcast creator Stacia L. Brown recently shared some of the Netflix thumbnails she sees on her homepage. Said thumbnails all include only characters of color with a few minutes of screen time at best in movies with otherwise white leads and a majority white cast (eg. Kristen Bell & Kelsey Grammer-led “Like Father,” the Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch-led rom-com “Set It Up”).
This has prompted several African-American Netflix subscribers to confirm that the thumbnails on their accounts show a similar thing with one responder upset about feeling ‘unnecessarily targeted’ despite rarely watching ‘black’ titles on the streaming service.
Netflix has since denied any allegations of its algorithm targeting users based on race, telling The Fader in a statement:
“Reports that we look at demographics when personalizing artwork are untrue. We don’t ask members for their race, gender, or ethnicity so we cannot use this information to personalize their individual Netflix experience. 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.”
Netflix has previously hyped the introduction of ‘personalized’ thumbnail artwork which aims to attract ‘the most plays from the largest fraction of our members’. These personalized artworks are driven by genre preferences, but their official statement suggests race could be a factor as the artwork aims to “highlight the aspects of a title that are specifically relevant to them?”.
However, as one Twitter user aptly puts: “I bet people at the company thought it’d be a cool idea & drive hella engagement… BUT people generally don’t like knowing they’re being treated different because of their race especially not in the comfort of their own homes trying to watch a movie.”
Filmmaker Tobi Aremu tells The Guardian: “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.”
Other Black @netflix users: does your queue do this? Generate posters with the Black cast members on them to try to compel you to watch? This film stars Kristen Bell/Kelsey Grammer and these actors had maaaaybe a 10 cumulative minutes of screen time. 20 lines between them, tops. pic.twitter.com/Sj7rD8wfOS
— stacia l. brown (@slb79) October 18, 2018