Facebook to Stop Ads That Exclude Specific Racial and Ethnic Groups

A smartphone user shows the Facebook application on his phone in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, in this photo illustration, May 2, 2013. Facebook Inc said July 24, 2013 that revenue in the second quarter was $1.813 billion, compared to $1.184 billion in the year ago period. (PHOTO CREDIT: Reuters/Dado Ruvic /Files)
A smartphone user shows the Facebook application on his phone in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, in this photo illustration, May 2, 2013. Facebook Inc said July 24, 2013 that revenue in the second quarter was $1.813 billion, compared to $1.184 billion in the year ago period. (PHOTO CREDIT: Reuters/Dado Ruvic /Files)

Facebook says it will no longer allow advertisers to exclude specific racial and ethnic groups when placing ads related to housing, credit or employment.

“We are going to turn off, actually prohibit, the use of ethnic affinity marketing for ads that we identify as offering housing, employment and credit,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s vice president of U.S. public policy, told USA TODAY.

Facebook will also require advertisers to affirm that they will not place discriminatory ads on Facebook and will offer educational materials to help advertisers understand their obligations, Egan said.

The policy changes came after discussions with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Illinois) and the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Policy makers and civil rights leaders were concerned that marketers would use ethnic affinity marketing to run ads that discriminate against minorities in areas where historically they have faced discrimination, Egan said. Ads that exclude people based on race, gender and other sensitive criteria are prohibited by federal law in housing and employment.

The change “strikes me as a positive approach that moves them forward towards compliance with the law and that ensures they are not facilitating discrimination,” said University of Connecticut law professor Jon Bauer, an expert in housing discrimination law.

Facebook has been under fire from federal lawmakers for allowing advertisers to exclude racial and ethnic groups when placing housing ads such as an apartment for rent or a house for sale. Pro Publica brought the ability to light when it placed an ad for a housing-related event that excluded African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency that enforces fair housing laws, held discussions with Facebook to address “serious concerns” about the practice.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Jessica Guynn