Facebook Promises Steps Against Racially Discriminatory Ads

Janko Roettgers

Facebook wants to make it harder for advertisers to exclude users based on race when they are looking for new tenants or job applicants. The company announced Friday that it is tweaking its “ethnic affinity” marketing features to prevent discriminatory advertising in the areas of housing, employment and banking.

The announcement comes on the heels of a ProPublica investigation that revealed that these affinity marketing tools could be used to exclude African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans from housing ads — a practice that has been illegal since the passage of the Fair Housing Rights Act in 1968.

Facebook doesn’t actually ask users about their race when they sign up for the service, but the social network has been using other signals — such as language preferences, as well as the pages and posts they have liked and interacted with — to categorize its users in so-called ethnic affinity groups.

The company has defended this practice as common ad targeting, but on Friday said that it was going to tweak its advertising products to prevent discrimination. This will include building tools capable of detecting potentially discriminating ads, as well as educating advertisers to make sure that they don’t run afoul of both anti-discrimination laws as well as Facebook’s own policies.

The move comes as Facebook is under fire for allowing fake news, including racially charged stories from alt-right groups, on its site. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded to critics this week by calling the idea that this helped Donald Trump’s campaign “pretty crazy.”

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