- Social media front-runner Facebook is being sued for discriminatory advertising practices, reports USA Today. Last week, plaintiffs in the case accused the company of allowing housing and job advertisers on its site to exclude certain ethnic or racial groups from the target audiences they wanted.
- Facebook uses the word “exclude” under the heading “Narrow audience” on its ad-buy page. By selecting “exclude,” ad buyers can omit people who belong to certain ethnic groups or cultures. Listed as groups to exclude are African Americans, Asians and four categories of Latinos. Ad buyers also can eliminate certain demographics or behaviors. The suit notes that there’s no “exclude” option for whites or Caucasians.
- Plaintiffs Suzanne-Juliette Mobley, Karen Savage and Victor Onuoha say that Facebook allows ad buyers to post ads for housing and employment that discriminate, violating the Fair Housing Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Calling the suit “utterly without merit,” Facebook says it has an anti-discrimination policy that it upholds. The company defends its ad-buy platform, which it says is multicultural marketing and common practice. It argues that multicultural marketing allows ad buyers to make advertising more relevant to their targeted audience. But multicultural marketing is about inclusion, not exclusion.
There’s no doubt Facebook has an anti-discrimination policy; the question is whether the company is upholding it. Practices that involve excluding people by race, especially in the hard-fought civil rights battles over housing and employment, could be considered discriminatory. Recruiting bias is already a large enough problem.
Facebook states in the suit that it doesn’t want to end its ad-buy platform or get rid of its “exclude” option — it just wants to end the “illegal, proscribed uses of these functions." The court could interpret this to mean Facebook admits that discrimination occurred, but not because its platform allowed it.