Facebook Sued Over Housing Ads

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Facebook finds itself in hot water again as it faces a lawsuit from fair housing groups who allege that after promising to fix the housing ad problem, their marketing tools still allow advertisers to discriminate against certain groups when selling or renting properties.

Facebook had been criticized over the past 17 months when it comes to employment and housing ads specifically, and although they promised to crack down on advertisers who manipulate their tools to show their offerings only to white people, it appears they didn’t.

The Fair Housing Act

A little background – Enacted in 1968, The Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination when they are renting, buying, or securing financing for any housing, and covers discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, sex, disability and whether they have children.

Facebook’s wealth of data on its users allows marketers to target very specific demographics. If you own a dog grooming business, for example, you can set your ads up to be shown only to people who own dogs and live within a specific area. Likewise, if you’re a Realtor listing a 1-bedroom condo downtown, you can target the demographic most likely to buy – not a family with young children, but a single, young tech worker within a certain income range.

The National Fair Housing Alliance Created Housing Ads

To determine whether the problem with Facebook’s advertising tools had been resolved, the National Fair Housing Alliance created a housing ad for a fictitious apartment for rent in Washington, D.C., and eliminated women from the audience by using Facebook’s targeting to omit categories including “corporate moms” and “stay-at-home moms.”

Similarly, the Fair Housing Justice Center created an ad for an apartment for rent in New York by selecting “no kids” and “men” from the inclusion list and “moms of grade school kids” and other groups from the exclusion list.

The lawsuit also points out that Facebook’s “interests” categories (something agents might use to target a waterfront property to people who enjoy boating, or a property with prize-winning flower gardens to someone who likes gardening) enable a landlord or real estate agent to exclude users based on disability-related factors. The tool of course doesn’t allow you to specifically say you don’t want to sell or rent to someone who is disabled, but investigators uncovered a way around it by targeting people who like “Interest in Disabled Parking Permit,” and “disabled veteran.”

Facebook clearly has a mess on their hands and needs to resolve these issues that allow users to manipulate their advertising tools to violate federal law.

What should you do?

Time will tell where this will lead, but for now, continue using Facebook to advertise your listings, open houses, and to stay top-of-mind with your sphere. Facebook continues to be one of the most powerful, cost-effective tools at your disposal. Hopefully they get these issued fixed for good.