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Facebook Still Lets Housing Advertisers Exclude Users By Race (arstechnica.com) 197

AmiMoJo writes: In February, Facebook said it would step up enforcement of its prohibition against discrimination in advertising for housing, employment, or credit. Last week, ProPublica bought dozens of rental housing ads on Facebook but asked that they not be shown to certain categories of users, such as African-Americans,mothers of high school kids, people interested in wheelchair ramps, Jews, expats from Argentina, and Spanish speakers. All of these groups are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act. Violators can face tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Every single ad was approved within minutes. The only ad that took longer than three minutes to be approved by Facebook sought to exclude potential renters 'interested in Islam, Sunni Islam, and Shia Islam.' It was approved after 22 minutes.
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Facebook Still Lets Housing Advertisers Exclude Users By Race

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  • How is this even legal?

    Is Zuckerborg from Mississippi or something?

    • Because it's advertising, not commerce. You can advertise your commercials only during the whitest TV show, why would the Internet be different?

      • Re:Jeebuz! (Score:5, Informative)

        by belthize ( 990217 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @10:20AM (#55602901)

        The Fair Housing act begs to differ: https://www.hud.gov/sites/docu... [hud.gov]

        Folks can debate whether it should or should not be a law all they want, but the issue of legality is pretty clear.

        The Act very clearly covers advertising as well in section 109.5

          109.5 Policy.
          It is the policy of the United States to provide, within constitutional limitations, for fair housing
        throughout the United States. The provisions of the Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. 3600, et seq.)
        make it unlawful to discriminate in the sale, rental, and financing of housing, and in the provision
        of brokerage and appraisal services, because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status,
        or national origin. Section 804(c) of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3604(c), as amended, makes
        it unlawful 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 because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial
        status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination.
        However, the prohibitions of the act regarding familial status do not apply with respect to housing
        for older persons, as defined in section 807(b) of the act.

        • It very clearly covers the contents of that advertising. The contents should not indicate the preference - but if the targeting is information that is not available to the consumer it is not a violation.

          • Read the whole thing:

            makes it unlawful 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,

            'Cause to be made' and 'indicates any preference' are pretty clear. It's settled law.

            You can discriminate all you want as long as you don't voice intent, ie you just quietly don't rent to somebody or advertise on 'Duck Dynasty' but if you tell the advertiser: don't show my commerc

            • Reading comprehension:

              that indicates any preference

              Sure, maybe a TV ad might not be compliant. But a Facebook ad where the targeting is completely opaque does not give anyone a way to determine an indication of preference.

            • It *is* pretty clear, and advertising demographics is not included in said notice, statement, or advertisement, so it's not a violation.
              • by jaa101 ( 627731 )

                Just because the ad itself doesn't say "no blacks" is not enough. The advertisers said "no blacks" to Facebook and that's a "statement" that they "made" and so *is* a violation.

            • The law says you cannot advertise like "White's only here." With the exception that you can advertise for senior living. They are not saying where you can PUT the ads, or how you distribute them, just the content therein.
            • Read the whole thing:

              makes it unlawful 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,

              'Cause to be made' and 'indicates any preference' are pretty clear. It's settled law.

              You can discriminate all you want as long as you don't voice intent, ie you just quietly don't rent to somebody or advertise on 'Duck Dynasty' but if you tell the advertiser: don't show my commercial where black people might see it you have signaled intent and are not in compliance.

              Well what do you propose? That we force facebook to remove targeted ads?

          • It very clearly covers the contents of that advertising.

            ... and even then, it is the person placing the ad that is breaking the law, not the newspaper or website publishing it.

            • Both actually. It even explicitly uses the word "publish." But it's a moot point because the content of the ad does not violate discrimination laws.
        • As others have pointed out, this deals with the content of the ad, not the placement of the ad.
          Further, this is all "within constitutional limitations". You can't compel speech by forcing someone to place an ad in specific publications, locations, etc.

      • by Khyber ( 864651 )

        "Because it's advertising, not commerce."

        Did money exchange hands? It's commerce no matter how you try to camouflage it.

        • But not between you and the end consumer. Way to pedantically nitpick the leaves and miss the trees and forest entirely.

          • by Khyber ( 864651 )

            I'm not missing shit, son. I READ THE FUCKING RELEVANT LAW. You apparently did not.

            • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

              Reading may imply comprehension, but you prove that it does not mean comprehension.

              • by Khyber ( 864651 )

                Apparently you failed, too.

                "Section 804(c) of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3604(c), as amended, makes
                it unlawful 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 because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial
                status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination."

                To wit: Here' [cornell.edu]

    • How is this even legal?

      Is Zuckerborg from Mississippi or something?

      I'm guessing the religion one might be legal - I'm pretty certain you can discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs.

      • I'm pretty certain you can discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs.

        No. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 specifically prohibits discrimination in housing based on religion.

        There is an exemption for housing administered by religious organizations.

  • If you are renting a 3rd floor apartment in a building without an elevator, then people interested in wheelchair ramps probably also aren't interested in your apartment.

    • In Great Society 2.0, governrment rewards law firms that find violations in small businesses. This is why you may have seen two railings on stairs, because the original one was a few inches too high or low, and a law firm found it and made the business pay them $11,947 as a violation finders' reward.

  • FB Trolling (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Facebook "advertisers" trolling has only increased since the last election IMO. A friend of mine shared recently an ad that was injected into his newsfeed (from some site called Wish) that was essentially a picture of a small ziploc back filled with white powder, and a large straw. WTF? I've also seen "ads" that appear to be simply there to disturb people playing to their paranoias and delusions. Facebook has no mechanism for reporting abuse of the advertisements. I suppose the line between "fucking so

  • by fgouget ( 925644 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @10:17AM (#55602861)

    The only ad that took longer than three minutes to be approved by Facebook sought to exclude potential renters 'interested in Islam, Sunni Islam, and Shia Islam.' It was approved after 22 minutes.

    The reviewer was on break for lunch?

  • by sqorbit ( 3387991 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @10:20AM (#55602905)
    According to this link http://civilrights.findlaw.com... [findlaw.com] A landlord must treat every tenant equally. Illegal discrimination occurs when the landlord: -Includes preferences or limitations in a rental advertisement - Denies the availability of a available rental dwelling or steers renters to a certain area based on race The Fair Housing Act covers both tenants and prospective tenants. I would think those two points are pretty clear that Facebook is doing something illegal.
    • by xous ( 1009057 )

      No, I would argue that landlords configuring their ads to match the values are the violating the act.

      The act says "landlords" not advertisers acting on behalf of landlords.

      Check the rental ads on Craigslist or other platforms and you'll find most ads are in violation of the fair housing act.

    • I think it's pretty clear that Facebook isn't doing anything illegal with respect to these requirements, if not for any other reason than Facebook apparently not being the landlord in question.
      • At first glance, yeah, but consider this: If you extend that logic, why was the Silk Road taken down? Why can't I advertise great deals on bricks of cocaine on Facebook?
        • Probably because selling cocaine tends to be illegal under any conditions? Housing as such isn't - that is, unless you're using those cocaine bricks on sale as building material.
    • A landlord must treat every tenant equally.

      There is no legal requirement that every tenant be treated equally. The laws bans certain forms of discrimination based on a specific list of criteria. If you want to discriminate on other criteria, such as refusing to rent to people with nose rings, then you can do so.

      I would think those two points are pretty clear that Facebook is doing something illegal.

      Unlikely. The FHA restricts what landlords can do. It does not restrict what publishers can do. If a landlord places a discriminatory ad in a newspaper, it is the landlord that broke the law, not the newspaper.

    • Illegal discrimination occurs when the landlord:
      - Includes preferences or limitations in a rental advertisement
      - Denies the availability of a available rental dwelling or steers renters to a certain area based on race

      Which of the above prohibitions do you think targeted advertising violates, and how?
      - The advertisements include no preferences or limitations.
      - Not showing someone an ad for a rental is not at all the same thing as denying that a rental is available if they affirmatively ask.
      - The advertisements don't tell potential renters to rent from them because of the racial makeup of the neighborhood.

      I really don't see how this fits.

      • by jaa101 ( 627731 )

        Because the law reads makes it illegal "to make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published, any notice, statement, or advertisement". The advertisement itself was fine, but ProPublic "made" a "statement" to Facebook that they wanted to discriminate, so that's illegal.

        • I guess since you've moved on to a new topic, you agree there wasn't an issue under OP's criteria. It's like swatting flies sometimes.

          I take your quote to be a selective excerpt from 42 U.S.C. 3604(c):

          (c) 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, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination.

          Now, considering the full statutory language, how does this situation meet it? The "notice, statement, or advertisement" must itself "indicate[] any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such p

          • by jaa101 ( 627731 )

            I'm arguing that ticking the box is a notice or a statement that indicates a preference based on race. You can tick a box that says don't show this ad to black people and that's the problem. You say:

            The "notice, statement, or advertisement" must itself "indicate[] any preference, limitation, or discrimination

            but I take issue with your use of the word "itself." That's nowhere in the code you cite and, anyway, there are two things going on here. The hypothetical landlord can say "Dear FaceBook: show this ad only to white folks" and provide the ad saying "I'm happy to rent this property to anyone". The advertiseme

  • The fine they would get would be small in comparison to the advertising revenue they're getting, so there's no reason to stop breaking the law.

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @10:48AM (#55603187) Journal
    Back in the 90s, Colorado had our infamous amendment 2. It basically said that state and local gov could not forbid this kinds of actions and that ppl would have no legal recourse. However, that version was after the far right got a hold of it. The ORIGINAL version said that for roommates, landlords owning 4 or less properties, or businesses smaller than 12 employees, COULD discriminate in this fashion, BUT, that all others COULD not. IOW, if you worked for a company where it was possible to move you away from idiots, then you should not be discriminated against.
    Likewise, for a roommate situation, the last thing I would want to do is move into a place in which the roomie HATES me from the gitgo. That will make for a nightmare situation
    The ability to place that Ad should be similar. If it is roomate or small ownership, then by all means, allow somebody to avoid getting into bad situations.
    BUT, with medium to large businesses, absolutely NOT.
  • It's possible to get Facebook to give someone LESS ads if they can convince Facebook that they are a minority that should be excluded from certain types of ads?

    If anything, I'd say that's discriminatory against people who don't fall into a minority category.

    So.... how does one get Facebook to think that you are a minority?

    • That's actually I good question: How do I get Facebook to think I'm (minority group) so advertisers don't pester me?

  • What this does is save the potential renter time. Because if some bigot doesn't want to rent his apartment to someone who is (insert person group here) he WILL find an excuse not to. And there is no law that could even possible force anyone to rent a certain apartment to someone specific. This isn't a bar where more than one person at the same time gets in where you can easily point at discrimination when he's turned away while some other person not belonging to the same group get in.

    In other words, even if

  • Let's say I have a property for rent and I discriminate against protected class tenants on Slashdot in a posting, is Slashdot responsible and accountable for advocating this behavior in court? I think not. If someone knows different, provide specific evidence for your claim.
  • I guess they wanted to make sure all the FB doors were locked and alarmed before approving that one?

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