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Facebook advertising segregating users on basis of ethnic affinity

Facebook advertising
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Facebook advertising may be heading for fresh trouble. After the hullabaloo caused due to wrong reporting of the number of impressions it was generating through ads, another potential wasp’s nest has recently been discovered. It appears like advertisers can chose to exclude users by “ethnic affinity, something which is deemed illegal most everywhere.

The report comes from ProPublica, which offers screenshots of an ad it purchased from Facebook as proof. It appears as if Facebook advertising lets you exclude certain sections of people from it’s ads. The above advertisement for example, lets you narrow down audience by choosing to excluded users with an ethnic affinity for “African American (US)”, “Asian American (US)” and “Hispanic (US – Spanish dominant).

This is certainly very strange. That is like a company offering to sell its products to only a particular section of the society. For many it would seem that a business would do such an act if it was prejudiced against a section of audience. How then can Facebook, a social media platform of global stature, allow advertisers to exclude people on the basis of their ethnic affinity.

According to a Civil Rights lawyer cited by ProPublica, such a segregation on basis of ethnic affinity is absolutely illegal and a blatant a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

According to the fair housing act of 1968, mentioned above, it is 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.

And that is just the US. Many other countries have similar laws in place to prevent such discrimination. However, Facebook said that the exclusion on its platform was not based on the ethnic group a user belonged to, it was actually based on a particular user’s liking for a particular ethnic group. And how did Facebook decide this so called ethnic affinity? Why by looking at what the user like on the platform of course.

We are committed to providing people with quality ad experiences, which includes helping people see messages that are both relevant to the cultural communities they are interested in and have content that reflects or represents their communities — not just generic content that’s targeted to mass audiences.

We believe that multicultural advertising should be a tool for empowerment. We take a strong stand against advertisers misusing our platform: our policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate, and they require compliance with the law. We take prompt enforcement action when we determine that ads violate our policies.

So the long and short of the matter is this. Facebook says that the segregation is not based on the race a user belongs to but his/her affinity for a particular group. That still does not answer why the social networking platform has placed the option to exclude people with affinity for certain groups under the Demographics category of its ad-targeting tool.

Well, we certainly did not expect to come up to something like this in these enlightened times. Let us see when — and if — Facebook advertising decides to move the category away from Demographics. The platform would do better to hurry, unless it wants to be slapped with lawsuits claiming that it is in violation of the fair housing act of 1968.

A bibliophile and a business enthusiast.

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