Facebook announced the change after meeting with policymakers and civil rights leaders to discuss concerns that the social media site could allow advertisers to discriminate against minorities.

  • Facebook announced the change after meeting with policymakers and civil rights leaders to discuss concerns that advertisers could discriminate against minorities.
  • In a blog post, the company said it will develop tools "to detect and automatically disable" the use of ethnic affinity marketing for ads "that we identify as offering housing, employment, or credit."

Facebook will bar marketers from hiding housing-related ads placed on the social network from ethnic groups.

The social media behemoth announced the change after meeting with policymakers and civil rights leaders to discuss concerns that the social media site could allow advertisers to discriminate against minorities.

In a blog post, the company said it will develop tools “to detect and automatically disable” the use of ethnic affinity marketing for ads “that we identify as offering housing, employment, or credit.”

Facebook also said it will update its advertising policies to “be even more explicit and require advertisers to affirm that they will not engage in discriminatory advertising on Facebook.”

And it will offer educational materials to “to help advertisers understand their obligations with respect to housing, employment and credit.”

Facebook had already prohibited ads that involved illegal discrimination, citing in a blog post “an apartment that won’t rent to black people” as as an example of the sort of “negative exclusion” that violated its ad policies.

But ProPublica raised concerns that some discriminatory housing-related ads could slip through Facebook’s vetting system. It reported buying an ad that targeted Facebook users who were house-hunting and excluded anyone with an “ethnic affinity” for African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic people.

The ad was approved in 15 minutes, ProPublica said. The publication later clarified that the ad “was not for housing itself — it was placed in Facebook’s housing categories.”

In early November, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) told Inman that it was discussing “our serious concerns” with Facebook over published reports about Facebook’s ad tools.

This validated the widespread view that the social network had made it possible to create ads that — if approved by Facebook — would have violated fair housing laws. It also highlighted the legal risk of using ad filters based on characteristics such as sex and familial status, not just race.

The Fair Housing Act, a federal anti-discrimination law established in 1968, prohibits discrimination in housing-related transactions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and familial status. Some state fair housing laws cover additional characteristics, such as sexual orientation, marital status, ancestry and creed.

Facebook didn’t mention any new safeguards aimed at preventing marketers from targeting housing-related ads based on demographic characteristics besides ethnic status.

Real estate agents commenting under an Inman article condemned housing-related Facebook ads targeted on the basis of ethnic affinity, though some wondered whether Facebook should be responsible for policing the ads.

Email Teke Wiggin.

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