Facebook is being sued by a prominent civil rights group for alleged discrimination in advertising. The plaintiffs say Facebook allowed landlords to exclude women and people with children from seeing housing ads.
This is interesting to me because I recently found an ad from the late 1950s or early 1960s, advertising homes in a development, and they were targeting Japanese-Americans. This was legal at the time, but was made illegal by the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
The practice was called “steering”, and to see evidence of it was interesting. They advertiser, Don Nakajima, had advertised in The Rafu Shimpo, an ethnic paper in Los Angeles. The ad also mentioned “Japanese-American neighbors.”
The typical example of steering is when a Black family isn’t shown homes in a white community. There’s some evidence that there was also steering of people of color toward specific developments.
When these ads were placed, many, if not most, of the new suburban developments were not open to Asian, Black, or Brown buyers. So this was not really racist steering, but a way to sell to a marginalized population. It wasn’t a “good” thing, but a response to an oppressive situation.
Web and Facebook Ad Targeting
The Facebook ad targeting features seem to be the same thing. They allow market segmentation by race or gender or other attributes. So, they allow people to place ads for housing that exclude some audiences.
It should be feasible for Facebook to simply remove targeting categories that violate the Civil Rights laws. In fact, the Federal government should be producing ready-to-use lists of words and categories that are disallowed.
I don’t think they should be arguing against this law.