The social network giant, Facebook—amid criticism and a
push from public figures and congressional leaders—announced
that the site would no longer allow advertisers to exclude specific
racial and ethnic groups in the areas of housing, credit, or
employment advertisements. Erin Egan, Facebook's vice president
of U.S. public policy, announced the changes.
Previously, Facebook, while it had explicitly banned advertisers
from discriminating against racial and ethnic groups, had offered
advertisers the ability to target and even exclude certain groups
of Facebook users via "Ethnic Affinity" marketing.
Through an ethnic affinity assignment, Facebook tracked the pages
and posts liked by its users or those with which they may have
engaged. Facebook's practice was put on full display when Pro
Publica, the public interest investigative journal, utilizing the
previously-permitted practice, placed an advertisement for a
housing-related event that excluded African Americans, Asian
Americans and Hispanic Americans.
Following Pro Publica's advertisement, the Department of
Housing and Urban Development, tasked with enforcing fair housing
laws, addressed with Facebook its "serious concerns"
about the site's practice. Other policy makers and civil rights
leaders—including New York Attorney General Eric
Schneiderman, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Illinois), the Congressional
Black Caucus, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and the Congressional
Hispanic Caucus—further engaged in a series of discussions
with Facebook about their practices. These leaders' concerns
centered on their belief that marketers would use ethnic affinity
marketing to run ads that discriminated against minorities in areas
where minorities have historically faced discrimination.
Facebook took note, and doubled down on its effort to ensure
that its site complied with federal laws, which explicitly prohibit
advertisements that exclude people based on race and gender, among
other areas. To that end, Facebook announced that it would prohibit
the use of ethnic affinity marketing for ads identified as offering
housing, employment and credit. This new policy change also
includes one additional measure: Facebook will now require
advertisers to affirm that they will not place discriminatory ads
on Facebook and will offer educational materials to help
advertisers understand their obligations.
However, Facebook's new policies have not been enough to
prevent legal action. At least one class action lawsuit has been
filed against the company, with the plaintiffs arguing that
Facebook's previous advertising algorithm violated the Fair
Housing Act and Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Still, both Facebook and those who pushed for these new changes
are optimistic that current issues will be remedied while
preventing similar issues in the future.
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