Facebook is facing a class lawsuit filed on Friday by three users of the social media network. The suit claims that Facebook has allowed advertisers to racially discriminate against people of certain races. This types of racial discriminatory ads violate the United States Federal Housing Act and the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The violations caused by Facebook’s ad policies were previously revealed last month by ProPublica. Investigative journalists from the company posted an ad in Facebook’s housing categories. They were able to exclude certain ethnic affinities such as Asian-American, Hispanic, or African-American from seeing the ad in question. The reporters then decided to show the ad to John Relman, a prominent civil rights lawyer. After examining the case, he considered that the racial discriminatory ads were indeed a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
Specifics of the Lawsuit
Facebook is not directly responsible for the creation of these types of ads. However, the lawsuit claims that the company is nonetheless in violation of the act because it allows housing ads to discriminate based on race. This type of discrimination is clearly prohibited by the landmark law, which also excludes gender, color, religion, and other factors as reasons to not offer housing opportunities.
The plaintiffs in the suit are Victor Onuoha and Suzanne-Juliette Mobley from Louisiana as well as Karen Savage from New York. They have said that they do not want to end Facebook’s Ad Platform or the removal of the option to exclude certain people. They think that these functionalities can be beneficial when properly used. As such, the plaintiffs only seek to end the illegal uses of Facebook’s ads feature.
The lawsuit is currently pending approval in a federal court in San Francisco. If the judge allows it to move forward, then it can include any Facebook user in the US who hasn’t seen a housing ad within the last two years.
In response, Facebook spokesperson, Genevieve Grdina has issued a statement. The company maintains that the recent lawsuit does not have any merit and will be met by a vigorous defense. It also emphasized that those types of ads are the result of multicultural marketing. This has been a common practice in the industry as it helps companies to reach specific audiences with relevant advertising.
Facebook also added that by affinity groups, the company is not referring to the genetic makeup of people. Instead, they focus on the affinity to the cultures people are interested in. Facebook also pointed out a post in response to the ProPublica article, from Christian Martinez, the head of multicultural marketing. He wrote that:
This kind of communication is positive: it reflects an advertiser’s respect for the diverse communities it is trying to reach. But it’s important to know that there’s also negative exclusion—for example, an apartment building that won’t rent to black people or an employer that only hires men.
He also emphasized that Facebook’s ad policies strictly prohibit racial discriminatory ads as they are against the law.
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