A “Charge of Discrimination” filed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development against Facebook is making waves. In the Charge, HUD accuses that Facebook “unlawfully discriminates based on race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, sex, and disability” when it comes to advertisements for housing. The document can be viewed HERE.
Through Facebook’s ad platform, advertisers are able to target users of the social media service who are most likely to be interested in their goods and services. HUD says that these practices may violate the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson argues: “Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live.” Calling the practice “as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face,” Carson objects to features on the advertising platform such as toggle buttons that make it possible to include or exclude men or women. There’s also a search box that can be used to exclude individuals who are not fluent in a certain language.
Attributes that advertisers can choose or exclude include accessibility, Hispanic culture, hijab fashion and foreigners. Additionally, Facebook’s advertising platform features a map tool that advertisers use to exclude people living in certain areas from seeing specific ads.
A U.S. Administration Law Judge will be responsible for hearing the case unless one of the parties demands a federal court venue instead. The Administrative Law Judge has the power to award damages in the event that discrimination is proved.
The Charge comes just after Facebook announced that they had reached settlements in nearly half-a-dozen housing discrimination lawsuits. Altogether, the social media company will pay $1.95 million to the plaintiffs in these cases. Settlements in the cases also require that Facebook make massive changes to its ad platform as it relates to advertising for credit, employment and housing.
A Facebook spokesperson is surprised by HUD’s new Charge in light of these recent settlements and the changes that are underway with the ad platform. Legal experts are closely watching the situation to see if HUD is using the Charge to warn others to avoid similar advertising practices that could be used in a discriminatory manner.