Facebook Probes Ad Discrimination, Updates Guidelines

As part of a broader response to claims of racial bias, Facebook is making it harder for advertisers to avoid consumers based on certain personal attributes.  

As outlined in its updated ad guidelines, the social giant is prohibiting advertisers from discriminating against users based on race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, disability, or medical or genetic condition.

“When an advertiser attempts to show an ad that we identify as offering a housing, employment or credit opportunity and either includes or excludes our multicultural advertising segments -- which consist of people interested in seeing content related to the African American, Asian American and US Hispanic communities -- we will disapprove the ad,” Facebook notes in a new blog post.

In addition, when advertisers try to show an ad that Facebook identifies as offering a housing, employment or credit opportunity and uses any other audience segment on Facebook, it will show those advertisers information about its updated anti-discrimination policy.

Facebook will then insist that advertisers certify they are in compliance with that policy, along with all applicable anti-discrimination laws.

Some activists applauded Facebook for its efforts on Wednesday.

“We ‘like’ Facebook for following up on its commitment to combating discriminatory targeting in online advertisements,” Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, stated.

To make these recent changes, Facebook said it sought council from New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and others.

Late last year, ProPublicareported that Facebook was making it possible for advertisers to prevent their ads from being shown to users who belonged to certain "ethnic affinity" groups. The ProPublica report sparked outrage among lawmakers and activists, which led to a potential class-action civil rights lawsuit.

As part of its initial response, the tech titan promised to prohibit marketers from using a race-based targeting option for ads offering housing, employment or credit.

“There are many nondiscriminatory uses of our ethnic affinity solution in these areas, but we have decided we can best guard against discrimination by suspending these types of ads,” Erin Egan, a company vice president, explained in a blog post last November.

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