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Are Facebook Ads Discriminatory?

Three Facebook users are suing the social media giant, claiming discrimination in housing and employment. This discrimination purportedly arises out of the company’s advertising platform. Ad buyers are given the ability to target ads to exclude specific “ethnic affinity” such as “African-American” or “Asian-American.” There is no exclusion of “White or Caucasian Americans.” A publication entitled ProPublica reported that it was able to purchase an advertisement from Facebook in one of its housing categories. It was able to exclude anyone with an “affinity” for African-American, Asian American or Hispanic people. With these exclusions, the ad will then no longer show in the Facebook timelines of users who match characteristics of the excluded group.

In pursuing a possible class action against Facebook, the three current plaintiffs hope to end any illegal uses of these affinity functions but do not want to end Facebook’s Ad Platform. The potential class would include any U.S. Facebook user who has “not seen an employment –or housing-related advertisement on Facebook within the last two years because the ad’s buyer used the Ad Platform’s ‘Exclude People’ functionality to exclude the class member based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.”

Facebook has stated the lawsuit is without merit. “Multicultural marketing is a common practice in the ad industry and helps brands reach audiences with more relevant advertising. Our policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate, and they require compliance with the law.”