Future Tense

Facebook Bans Targeting Based on Race and Ethnicity for Housing and Employment Ads

The social network will no longer allow their advertisers to exclude minorities from their audiences on some ads.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Facebook announced Friday that it will no longer allow its advertisers to target audiences by excluding certain races and minorities on certain ads.

“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,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s vice president of U.S. public policy, told USA Today.

According to a blog post by Egan, Facebook will also provide educational materials to advertisers about their legal obligations and will require them to affirm that they will not purchase discriminatory ads on Facebook.

In October, ProPublica released a damning report of Facebook’s advertisement policy, which had previously allowed advertisers to target their ads by excluding certain races and ethnicities. Facebook’s official policy prohibits advertisers from using the targeting methods to discriminate against groups of people, but the ProPublica team successfully bought a housing ad that excluded all minority groups, and Facebook approved it in 15 minutes. Following ProPublica’s revelation, a representative for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which enforces anti-discrimination housing laws, said in a statement that it was “in discussions” with Facebook about its “serious concerns” over the site’s advertising practices.

The option to target advertisements by “ethnic affinity” is a part of a recent effort by Facebook for “multicultural advertising.” Since Facebook does not ask its users about their race or ethnicity, a user’s ethnic affinity is determined by what he or she has liked or posted on Facebook. However, there is no option to exclude white or Caucasian Americans from the target audience, which is noted in a class-action lawsuit filed against Facebook on Nov. 3 in the Northern District of California. The suit alleges that Facebook’s ad targeting option is in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Fair Housing Act is meant to prevent landlords and sellers from discriminating against renters and buyers, and the Civil Rights Act bans discrimination based on sex and race in employment matters.

Presumably, Facebook will still allow advertisers to filter by race on matters unrelated to housing, employment, or credit, which Egan vaguely addressed in her blog post: “We will continue to explore ways that our ethnic affinity solution can be used to promote inclusion of underrepresented communities, and we will continue to work with stakeholders toward that goal,” she wrote.