September 11, 2019
How Might Facebook Have Violated the Fair Housing Act?
Whatever one thinks about the social media landscape in America at the moment, there is a very real sense that the “wild west” days of sheer experimentation and lagging-behind of regulation are coming to an end. To wit: in March, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged Facebook for violations of the Fair Housing Act because of advertising practices that, the Department alleges, allowed landlord and home selling ad purchasers to utilize its platform to actively engage in housing discrimination.
Alleged in the charges are that the social media giant permitted advertisers to make selections of whom to target with their ads that focus upon recipients’ race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, disability, and ZIP code. The specific ways in which Facebook does this includes permitting advertisers to exclude those classified by the platform as parents; born outside America; interested in disability accessibility; interested in Hispanic culture; and non-Christian, among multiple other personal and protected qualities.
Much of what Facebook has offered advertisers has focused in on the atomization of qualifications, with the promise of highly-targeted ads such that advertisers can focus their efforts on fewer, more specific customer groups. This allows advertisers to essentially save money by permitting them to cast a much narrower net. But the qualities described above are protected under the Fair Housing Act.
According to HUD secretary Ben Carson, “Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live.” Whereas in the past allegations made under the Fair Housing Act have tended to be against those using more traditional methods to discriminate, Carson said, “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”
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