Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Advertising Facebook Communications Government Social Networks The Almighty Buck The Internet United States News Technology Your Rights Online

Facebook Lets Advertisers Exclude Users By Race (propublica.org) 197

schwit1 quotes a report from ProPublica: Imagine if, during the Jim Crow era, a newspaper offered advertisers the option of placing ads only in copies that went to white readers. That's basically what Facebook is doing nowadays. The ubiquitous social network not only allows advertisers to target users by their interests or background, it also gives advertisers the ability to exclude specific groups it calls "Ethnic Affinities." Ads that exclude people based on race, gender and other sensitive factors are prohibited by federal law in housing and employment. You can view a screenshot of a housing advertisement that ProPublica's Julia Angwin and Terry Parris Jr. purchased from Facebook's self-service advertising portal here. The report adds: "The ad we purchased was targeted to Facebook members who were house hunting and excluded anyone with an "affinity" for African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic people. (Here's the ad itself.) The Fair Housing Act of 1968 makes it illegal "to make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin." Violators can face tens of thousands of dollars in fines. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibits the "printing or publication of notices or advertisements indicating prohibited preference, limitation, specification or discrimination" in employment recruitment. Facebook's business model is based on allowing advertisers to target specific groups -- or, apparently to exclude specific groups -- using huge reams of personal data the company has collected about its users. Facebook's micro-targeting is particularly helpful for advertisers looking to reach niche audiences, such as swing-state voters concerned about climate change. Facebook says its policies prohibit advertisers from using the targeting options for discrimination, harassment, disparagement or predatory advertising practices.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Facebook Lets Advertisers Exclude Users By Race

Comments Filter:
  • by GeorgeMonroy ( 784609 ) on Friday October 28, 2016 @04:50PM (#53171157) Homepage

    Soul Glow

  • by Pseudonymous Powers ( 4097097 ) on Friday October 28, 2016 @04:50PM (#53171161)

    "I defy you to tell me how the Facebook Kwik-N-Easy Discrimination Toolkit can be used to discriminate!"

    • The shocking thing is how quickly so many slashdot readers jump onto really dubious defenses of this behavior. This is not an edge case, this is a head-slapping "D'oh!"

  • So what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday October 28, 2016 @04:50PM (#53171163)

    So what? How is this any different than advertising at hockey games, or on Univision? Advertisers have always targeted different ethnic groups differently.

    • You linked this PDF in another post that seems to spell it out. I'm guessing you found this out after writing this post:

      Careful. There is no law that says you have to take affirmative measures to ensure that your housing ads reach all races equally, BUT it is illegal to INTENTIONALLY skew housing ads to disproportionately target, or avoid targeting, specific races. More info here [hud.gov]. So would it be illegal for someone advertising an apartment for rent to use Facebook's service? Maybe. If they were using it to ensure they were reaching all races equally, that would likely be legal. Otherwise, likely illegal. The same is true for ads for employment and credit. Other advertisers face no such restrictions.

      http://www.hud.gov/offices/fhe... [hud.gov]

      • It looks like this may indeed be illegal according to current law.

        Persons placing advertisements.
        A failure by persons placing advertisements to use the criteria contained in this part, when found in connection with the investigation of a complaint alleging the making or use of discriminatory advertisements, will be considered by the General Counsel in making a determination of reasonable cause, and by the Assistant Secretary in making determinations that there is no reasonable cause, to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred or is about to occur.

        It goes on to talk about how advertising only in the English language only may be considered discriminatory, or (a) Selective geographical advertisement, (b) Selective use of equal opportunity logo (i.e. using the logo in some advertisements but not in others), or (c) Selective advertisement using specific human models (i.e. only using white models).

        Given all that, I can't see how this could *possibly* be legal, as the intent of the law seems

  • by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Friday October 28, 2016 @04:52PM (#53171183)

    Facebook promotes censorship, it does not protect speech. In fact they have been reported by former employees of censorship. Just like Twitter and Google, they are in the bag as propagandists, not outlets for free speech.

    If you censor political opinions, why would you not allow other forms of censorship? It should be obvious that free speech is not a concern in one case, so would not be a concern in others. Oh, they may make phony claims that they care but that is simply to prevent people from abandoning the platform and finding/inventing other mediums.

    • I don't think advertisers would care who views their ads if this speech were 'free'. Unfortunately it is not- they pay Facebook for the placement and want the most bang for their buck.
  • by packrat0x ( 798359 ) on Friday October 28, 2016 @04:53PM (#53171189)

    There is no violation of the law.

    • There is no violation of the law.

      I doubt if there are hurt feelings either. As a male, I am not offended that there are no tampon ads in "Guns and Ammo" magazine. As a white guy, I am not offended that there are no malt liquor ads at hockey games.

    • Same as "Apartments for rent. No negros or hispanics need apply."

  • Uh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Friday October 28, 2016 @04:54PM (#53171197) Homepage Journal
    Uh, they aren't in violation of the law. If you actually read the law it doesn't prevent you from selective marketing. You just can't express preference in the advertisement itself. What a bunch of fucking morons.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Even if it isn't illegal, using it to exclude certain ethic groups from your properties is immoral. People are allowed to criticise that.

  • If targeting ads by race is suddenly racist then we should ban BET and Univision and any other media company that offers programming and advertising targeted for a racial group.

    • by vux984 ( 928602 )


      I see a difference between instructing a mail carrier to deliver a flyer to a predominantly white neighborhood, versus instructing the mail carrier not to deliver the flyer to any homes in that neighborhood that have non-white residents.

      Actions are perceived differently when it gets to an individual/personal differentiation.

      I expect the courts to agree.

      • Sure, but when a 3rd party reseller is offering to make the list of white neighborhoods and only ask the post office to deliver the ad to those neighborhoods then it leaves not really much room for interpretation.

        The actual situation is perhaps more clear than your example.

    • I think the big difference is the ability to prevent someone from seeing an ad. A TV advertiser cannot prevent an Irish man from tuning in to BET or Univision. Anyone is free to watch those channels as long as he or she gets the service. I may choose to not watch those channels and therefore not see the ad, but that is my choice, not the advertiser's.

      If the facebook tool said that only those people looking at a certain wall could see an ad, but everyone who looked at the wall could see it, it would not be

  • For sale: Pylons! construct them all day long!!
    • Hivefleet Leviathan's All-You-Can-Consume Biomass Buffet! Om-nom-nom, tasty biomass, you must consume it! [EXCLUDE: Eldar, Tau, Humans, Chaos]
  • by I4ko ( 695382 )
    Exclusion on national origin can definitely be included in labor ads.
    • That's how moronish and EditorJavaid got hired.

    • Exclusion on national origin can definitely be included in labor ads.

      In general, no, labor ads cannot discriminate on national origin. There is an exemption if the job has a government mandate that requires US citizenship or a security clearance. Years ago, I worked for defense contractors that required citizenship. But it is not legal for a company doing private sector work to have such a requirement.

      Disclaimer: I do not now, nor will I ever again, do defense work.

  • by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Friday October 28, 2016 @06:22PM (#53171799)

    In case there is any confusion the whole point of advertising companies building profiles of people is so they can JUDGE them based on statistical datasets and use the resulting judgment to maximize their own profits. Their activities are inherently prejudicial.

    Inventing what amounts to public signage which can only be read by certain people isn't illegal. You after all are not expressing a preference within content of the sign.

    The same way stealing your shit (civil forfeiture) doesn't violate the 14th amendment.

    Or stalking cell phone users, reading emails and collecting everyone's phone records without warrant does not violate the fourth amendment. Neither is the 7th amendment violated by undecipherable nonnegotiable omnipresent EULAs requiring submission to arbitration.

    Up is down, left is right there is no spoon.

  • Fact of the matter is, different ethnicities have different needs. Black people need different hair products, prefer to buy different clothing and shoes, listen to different music, eat different foods. Men don't buy high heels or cosmetics. Women aren't very interested in power tools or car related trinkets. And so on and so forth. There's this notion that differentiating by need is sexism/racism/etc-ism somehow, but it really isn't. Stereotypes are rooted in reality. All those advertisers are trying to do

  • I thought it was impossible for me to hate Facebook any more than I already did, but whaddya know......

  • The real racists (Score:2, Interesting)

    by reboot246 ( 623534 )
    Democrats have always been the real racists, from the Civil War through the Civil Rights era all the way until today. Oh, they accuse the other side of it, but if you watch closely, they always accuse others of what they're really guilty of doing.
  • That the same advertisers and services that want to browbeat everyone for ever minor misstep are the absolute worst about "discriminating" when it comes to their targeting and demographic marketing. It's not outrageous, so what if I'm selling a product and think a certain market is going to buy more of them so that's who I target? Is this news to anyone?

    The thing is, it's the hypocrisy of it all that bothers me. Well, that and the erasing of personal preference. I prefer not to date women with red hair, I d

  • So, it appears ProPublica may have violated the Fair Housing Act by placing this ad. HUD should investigate and fine them as appropriate. I suggest that everyone here file a complaint with HUD about ProPublica's behavior.

    The publisher (Facebook) didn't place the ad, the advertiser did.

    I'd bet that Facebook has adequate disclosure on its site and in its terms of service for advertisers (although, I've not confirmed this) about the Fair Housing Act's requirements.

    The fact that an individual ad is, for example

    • by TroII ( 4484479 )

      So, it appears ProPublica may have violated the Fair Housing Act by placing this ad.

      How's that? ProPublica didn't place an ad for housing, they placed an ad for a public speaking event.

      • by uncqual ( 836337 )

        Then there was no Fair Housing Act violation on ANYONE's part -- why is this news? I also didn't violate the Fair Housing Act today, but not /. nor any news agency reported this.

  • Asians? Really? Is this a china thing?
  • Indeed such stuff looks shocking to me, but on the other hand it has some advantage: it could free us of some mistargetted ads, such as hair care for black women served to bald white men.

  • Ad targetting means trying to get the ads to certain groups of people, to get it to the people interested in the product (or falling for your scam).
    If you target on the finanicial income, gender, the color of my car or the color of my skin doesn't matter.
    People may target their ads based on stereotypes, but they probably won't. They will target them in a way, which maximizes their profit. The evolved way (think of a-b-tests) will possibly show, that some stereotypes emerge, because they are true (in the sen

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky