Government & Politics

Black leaders in Congress say Facebook ads may be violating federal law

Black leaders in Congress say Facebook is possibly violating federal anti-discrimination housing law by allowing users to use advertising filters for housing to exclude some people based on race and ethnicity.
Black leaders in Congress say Facebook is possibly violating federal anti-discrimination housing law by allowing users to use advertising filters for housing to exclude some people based on race and ethnicity. AP

Prominent black leaders in Congress want Facebook to immediately change part of its advertising platform, saying a filter the social media company provides for targeted messages potentially violates federal anti-discrimination law.

Led by the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat from North Carolina, several black lawmakers sent Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a letter this week, outlining their concerns.

“Facebook’s ‘Ethnic Affinities’ advertising customization feature allows for advertisers to exclude specific racial and ethnic groups when placing housing advertisements,” the letter states. “This is in direct violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.”

The issue revolves around Facebook’s paid advertising service, which allows businesses and individuals to tailor posts, such as housing listings, based on an array of user characteristics, including geographic location, race, interests, age and more. ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism organization, first reported on Facebook’s advertising service allowing posters to exclude who can see their housing ads based on race and ethnicity.

Facebook officials have defended the practice and said the social media giant wouldn’t tolerate discrimination. In response to the letter sent Tuesday from four black members of Congress, a spokesman for Facebook told McClatchy they’re listening to concerns but that such marketing options allow brands to connect audiences with more relevant advertising.

Still, the recent congressional letter asks Facebook company officials to explain what steps they will take to ensure such advertising filter options aren’t “empowering discriminatory housing practices.”

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The lawmakers also want Zuckerberg and Facebook to do more to diversify the company’s boardroom and employee ranks, something the Congressional Black Caucus has asked of several top tech companies in recent months. Earlier this year, Butterfield and other black lawmakers successfully urged AirBnB to address accusations of racial discrimination on the housing rental website.

Lawmakers who sent the letter to Facebook this week include Reps. Robin Kelly, D-N.Y., Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., and Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y.

Anna Douglas: 202-383-6012, @ADouglasNews

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