Facebook has allowed advertisers to discriminate against people of color. As simple as that. The world’s largest social media site is also the greatest collector of personal information in the history of mankind. To profit from this data Facebook allowed companies to advertise to certain groups while excluding others. The result is that African-Americans and people of color couldn’t learn about certain jobs, housing and financial opportunities; i.e credit.
Facebook has labeled its ultra targeted advertising capabilities as “Ethnic Affinity” marketing. Concern has grown among policy makers and civil rights leaders that marketers have used “Ethnic Affinity” marketing to discriminate against minorities.
Facebook assigns users an “Ethnic Affinity” based on the pages and posts they have liked or engaged with. Facebook claims it bans advertisers from discriminating against racial or ethnic groups.
Advertising that excludes people based on race, gender and other sensitive criteria are prohibited by federal law in housing and employment. Yet Facebook has made it possible and profitable. According to The Verge last year Facebook posted revenues of $17.93 billion in revenue in 2015 up 44 percent from 2014. Almost all of it came from advertising. Facebook earns $13.54 for every user, up from $9 in the same quarter last year and that includes African-Americans and other minorities.
Facebook’s “Ethnic Affinity”marketing has come under fire from federal lawmakers for permitting advertisers to restrict its ads. This is known as red lining and it was common during the pre-civil rights era.
Pro Publica, a non-profit independent news website, exposed the practice after it placed an ad for a housing-related event that deliberately excluded African-Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is responsible for enforcing fair housing laws acted by engaging Facebook with “serious concerns” about this discriminatory program.
Facebook users have filed a lawsuit seeking class action status against the social media behemoth. The group asserts that “Ethnic Affinity” marketing is discriminatory ad-targeting technology that violates the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern California stated; “There is no mechanism to prevent ad buyers from purchasing ads related to employment/housing and then excluding based on these illegal characteristics.” Facebook says the lawsuit is without merit and it will fight it.
However, Facebook has responded to the complaints and modified the discriminatory advertising program. Facebook’s vice president of U.S. public policy Erin Egan told USA Today, “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.”
Facebook’s decided to change after discussions with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Illinois) and the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Egan added that Facebook’s changes, in part, came from “constructive dialogue” with advocacy groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Brookings Institution and Upturn.
Regardless of what Facebook says, it isn’t killing “Ethnic Affinity” marketing altogether. Instead, the company claims to be building tools that will automatically disable the targeting for ads that involve housing, employment or credit.
Egan went on to say that “There are many non-discriminatory uses of our ethnic affinity solution in these areas, but we have decided that we can best guard against discrimination by suspending these types of ads. We will continue to explore ways that our ethnic affinity solutions can be used to promote inclusion of underrepresented communities, and we will continue to work with stakeholders toward that goal.”
Breaking It Down
First of all I am a Facebook user. Ok so who isn’t? But I have some serious issues with Facebook and it’s totally corporate behavior. By corporate behavior I mean that Facebook has engaged in a behavior that it had to know was wrong at best and illegal at it’s worst. But by being a corporation it got away with this racist practice as long as it could, took the profits before getting caught, and then saying “Ok, you got us. Sorry. We’ll fix it.” This is blatant corporate behavior and it it was deliberate. How can a company like Facebook, with a genius at the helm and literally thousands of very intelligent employees not see “Ethnic Affinity” marketing being misused? I’m not saying that Facebook designed the program to be discriminatory but it was being used that way and they had to have seen it. But as long as the money was rolling in and no one was complaining then lets keep it going. This is simply inexcusable. Yeah sue ’em! Make em pay! This cannot be tolerated!