Facebook reportedly allows advertisers to exclude racial groups in housing ads

| October 29, 2016

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Facebook advertisers can now exclude racial and ethnic groups when creating a housing ad on the social media site, according to a report from ProPublica.

The feature, called “ethnic affinities," lets advertisers exclude certain groups of Facebook users. Under the federal Fair Housing Act, people are prohibited from discriminating based on race, gender, religion and other factors.

ProPublica created an ad aimed at house hunters and got it approved in 15 minutes despite excluding African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanics. Facebook declined to comment to the site about its approval.

When ProPublica told prominent civil rights lawyer John Relman about the feature, he called it "horrifying" and "massively illegal."

"This is about as blatant a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act as one can find," Relman said.

Steve Satterfield, Facebook's privacy and public policy manager, told ProPublica that use of the site's “Ethnic Affinity” tool is not the same as discriminating based on race.

Satterfield added the “Ethnic Affinity” option was created over the past two years during a so-called multicultural advertising effort. Facebook believes multicultural advertising helps advertisers target users with an array of interests across different communities.

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