Facebook Shuts Down Discriminatory Advertising


Tech and social media giant Facebook will no longer allow ads related to housing, credit or employment to exclude racial or ethnic groups.

Last week, a group of its users filed a lawsuit seeking class action status against Facebook, asserting that this ad-targeting technology violated the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The practice was brought to light in October by investigative journalism group Pro Publica.

Erin Egan, Facebook’s VP of U.S. public policy, told USA Today: “We are going to turn off, actually prohibit, the use of ethnic affinity marketing for ads that we identify as offering housing, employment and credit,” after discussions with the U.S. Attorney General and Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses. Going forward, people advertising for an apartment or house for rent, jobs, or loans, cannot solely advertise to a particular ethnic group while excluding others. The move comes after the Department of Urban Housing and Development raised its concerns with Facebook.

“There is no mechanism to prevent ad buyers from purchasing ads related to employment/housing and then excluding based on these illegal characteristics,”  according to the plaintiffs, USA Today reports. Facebook plans to fight the lawsuit, stating that it has no merit.

Facebook made changes to its policy after meeting with advocacy groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Brookings Institution and Uptrn, according to Egan. Christian Martinez, Head of Multicultural at Facebook, suggests the discrimination wasn’t the intended purpose of being able to target different ethnic groups.

“Targeting is designed to make advertising more relevant and inclusive to diverse communities,” he said and stressed that multicultural targeting was intended to help users stay connected with their respective communities in a blog post asserting that Facebook wants to embrace, not suppress, diversity.