Technology Facebook Ethnic

Facebook to refine ‘ethnic affinity’ targeting policies to work to avoid ethnic discrimination


By Haley Velasco | Freelance journalist

November 12, 2016 | 3 min read

Facebook has come under recent fire for its ability for advertisers to sort by “ethnic affinities,” which critics say allow discrimination based on race, gender and other factors. In an effort to improve enforcement and promote diversity, Facebook has made updates to its ethnic affinity marketing policies to work to remedy the potential ramifications.

Facebook offered the following as updates to their policy:

  • Build tools to detect and automatically disable the use of ethnic affinity marketing for certain types of ads: We will disable the use of ethnic affinity marketing for ads that we identify as offering housing, employment, or credit. There are many non-discriminatory uses of our ethnic affinity solution in these areas, but we have decided that we can best guard against discrimination by suspending these types of ads. We will continue to explore ways that our ethnic affinity solution can be used to promote inclusion of underrepresented communities, and we will continue to work with stakeholders toward that goal.
  • Offer more clarification and education: We will update our Advertising Policies to be even more explicit and require advertisers to affirm that they will not engage in discriminatory advertising on Facebook, and we will offer new educational materials to help advertisers understand their obligations with respect to housing, employment and credit.

According to the statement, Facebook engaged in discussions with organizations including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Brookings Institution and Upturn to make the changes.

“Recently, policymakers and civil rights leaders have expressed concerns that advertisers could misuse some aspects of our affinity marketing segments,” said Erin Egan, VP, US Public Policy and Chief Privacy Officer, in a statement. “Specifically, they’ve raised the possibility that some advertisers might use these segments to run ads that discriminate against people, particularly in areas where certain groups have historically faced discrimination–housing, employment and the extension of credit. We take these issues seriously. Discriminatory advertising has no place on Facebook.”

According to Egan, Facebook also met with lawmakers including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) of the Congressional Black Caucus and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss the issue.

In the US, under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 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."

“We are making these changes to deter discrimination and strengthen our ability to enforce our policies. We look forward to finding additional ways to combat discrimination, while increasing opportunity, and to continuing our dialogue with policymakers and civil rights leaders about these important issues,” Egan said.

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