As of Friday November 11, Facebook will stop allowing those purchasing housing, employment, and/or credit ads that are exclusionary by the social network refers to as “ethnic affinity.”
Previously, Facebook let advertisers exclude certain “ethnic affinities,” which include groups like Black people, Latino people, and Asian people. This was not a new practice for them or those who sell ads, however, Facebook came under fire for the practice after a recently-released ProPublica report that detailed and illustrated just precisely how this could be used to exclude people in a way that may violate federal anti-discrimination laws, rather than just to try and reach people for specific interests.
In the aforementioned report, Propublica writes and demonstrates with screenshot images that they were able to buy a Facebook ad for a housing event that would not be shown to Hispanic, Black, and Asian American users of the social media platform. ProPublica was able to quickly and easily place the ad, despite a Facebook policy which allegedly bans use of its ad targeting tools to discriminate and exclude Facebook users.
The subsequent public outcry from civil right groups, lawyers, and policymakers were laced with concern that this feature on Facebook could be used to violate federal laws prohibiting discriminatory advertisements for things like job opportunities and housing.
Under the law, the federal Fair Housing Act, both the entity marketing the ad as well as the publisher of a discriminatory housing ad can be punished.
To make matters worse for Facebook, a group of users filed a class-action lawsuit against Facebook about this very issue just last week.
Facebook told Atlanta Black Star that it has no way of knowing users’ races or ethnicities, and that their special categorization of people by “ethnic affinity” is determined solely by what posts and pages people “like” and engage with.
“Discriminatory advertising has no place on Facebook,” said Erin Egan, Facebook’s vice president for United States public policy and chief privacy officer, today in a blog post.