Facebook Still Lets Landlords Discriminate By Race And Disability In Apartment Ads

Last year, an explosive investigation by ProPublica revealed that Facebook was allowing advertisers to discriminate in housing ads by enabling landlords to filter out people who might view a given ad by their race. And today ProPublica released a follow-up to that investigation. Did Facebook fix its discrimination-enabling practices? Apparently not.

Mark Zuckerberg, designer of a platform that has made the world an objectively worse place, on 9 November 2017 (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ProPublica purchased a number of different housing ads last week, but asked that they be unavailable to certain segments of the population. Ads that would exclude Jews, black people, and Americans originally from Argentina were reportedly all approved within minutes. Facebook's targeting also allows advertisers to exclude other groups, such as people interested in wheelchair access and parents with high school-aged kids. These ads were approved quickly thanks to Facebook's algorithmic approval process.

According to ProPublica, just one type of ad took longer than mere minutes for approval and that was a test ad excluding people who were interested in Islam. That ad was ultimately approved in just 22 minutes.

All of these ads are in direct violation of US Fair Housing laws, and possibly Australian laws as well. But Facebook appears to have done nothing to ensure that it's in compliance, despite swearing that it would set up safeguards. ProPublica asked Facebook about the ads and the company blamed it on a "technical failure", rather than a systematic and inexcusable disinterest in adhering to US law.

"This was a failure in our enforcement and we're disappointed that we fell short of our commitments," a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo. "Earlier this year, we added additional safeguards to protect against the abuse of our multicultural affinity tools to facilitate discrimination in housing, credit and employment. The rental housing ads purchased by ProPublica should have but did not trigger the extra review and certifications we put in place due to a technical failure," the spokesperson said.

Head over to ProPublica to read more.

Facebook wields an enormous amount of power and has shaped the world for the worse in so many ways. And the company has shown little interest in addressing the various ways that it has poisoned our world.

None of the crap Facebook does is a "technical failure". They built this world for us and now we just have to live in it.

Today I had a call with a Facebook PR person who didn't want to talk on the record.

He never did answer a question that I emailed earlier in the day which asked, "Does Facebook acknowledge that it has made the world an objectively worse place to live and if so, what does it plan to do in order to lessen the suffering that it causes on a daily basis?"

Hopefully they're just thinking that one over and will get back to me soon.




    How is this even an article?

    So you’re saying if I were to make a TV advertisement for a housing development, I’d have to run the ad on every television network because targeting one network over another for its audience demographic is discrimination... ludicrous.

    I’m pretty sure it’s not discriminatory or illegal to run an ad with one network : publication over another. Positive even.

    And just because the landlord can target their relevant demographics in their ad spends, doesn’t mean they can disregard the law. If a person you say they are discriminating against applies for a property, the landlord is still bound by law to consider their application dude.

    But if you’re advertising a sixth floor apartment which is only accessible by stairs why should you pay to target people in wheelchairs? Wouldn’t it make sense not to pay to advertise to someone who can’t consume the product?

      Yeah sorry author but it’s not illegal according to the NSW docs you provided:

      It is against the law to discriminate against people for any of the above reasons but only in certain circumstances. It is unlawful for a landlord or real estate agent to discriminate against you:

      when rental accommodation is advertised (e.g. an ad that says that people of a particular ethnic group cannot apply)

      when you enquire about the availability of advertised accommodation (e.g. an agent refuses to show a vacant rental property to two unmarried women)
      when you apply for rental accommodation (e.g. by refusing to take your application, placing you lower on a list of applicants, or refusing to rent the premises to you)

      while you are renting accommodation by imposing terms or conditions which are discriminatory (e.g. limiting the people you can invite to visit)

      by ending the tenancy because of your race, sex, gender identity, sexuality, disability, marital status, or age
      by sexually harassing you in the course of being provided or offered accommodation
      by not giving you all the benefits associated with your accommodation (e.g. you live in flats with a pool and are not allowed to use the pool because you have a child with disability).


      If you ran a FB ad that didn’t target disabled people it would only be illegal if its text included something like:
      People with disabilities need not apply.

      Last edited 22/11/17 6:24 pm

      So you’re saying if I were to make a TV advertisement for a housing development, I’d have to run the ad on every television network because targeting one network over another for its audience demographic is discrimination... ludicrous.

      Yes, that is definitely exactly what the article said.


        And you don’t see the fundamental flaw in the logic of that statement?

          Check your sarcasm detector, @jaded.

          (Might've helped if Gizmodo didn't filter out the eyeroll emoji)

            Man Giz filters out all the good bits!


      It's the equivalent of running a TV advertisement and intentionally opting out of making that advertisement available to people based on their race or creed.

      If you had to place ads in both facebook and weibo (for example) to avoid discriminating then your metaphor would be accurate.

        You can place television ads through Weibo and Facebook?

        So you’re saying if I advertise on channel 9 and not SBS, I’m discriminating... I don’t think you understand the definition of discrimination in a legal context.

          I’m saying he opposite of that

            You do realise the age, gender, race, socioeconomic mix varies from channel to channel yeah?

            Like if you want to target 25-40 year olds advertise on 10. Want to target 50+ then advertise on 9. By choosing to run your ads only 9 or 10 you are intentionally opting out of making that ad available to people based on the demographic makeup (race and creed as you call it).

            The metaphor is sound. Your logic is flawed.

            [edit] in fact if you contact any media organisation they will be able to provide them with a very detailed breakdown of their audience demographic including gender, age, race, professions, education levels, spending habits, etc... if targeted advertising is discriminatory, then all advertising is...

            Last edited 29/11/17 6:14 pm

              you don't seem to know what opting out means.

                No you don’t seem to know what discrimination means

                Opting out = choosing not to participate. As in choosing not to advertise on channel 7 because their audience earns less money and is less educated, for example. By your definition, that’s discrimination lol

                  When you advertise with tv, you don’t go to a single advertising organisation and untick the channels and times that reach undesirable clients.

                  You work with an ad agency and opt-in to a time and demographic that fits your target base.

                  Completely fucking different to choosing opting out to advertise to people based on their colour or creed.

                  @beatsbynelly when I run an ad campaign I go to an agency and tell them which demographics I want to target. They then select the appropriate networks and reach, book advertising on tv AND social networks.

                  It’s exastly the same thing, just different levels of granularity on different platforms.

                  But you’re completely missing the point in the context of accommodation; which is, regardless of who my advertising targets I’m not allowed to discriminate in my choice of applicant. If I don’t target diabled people and a disabled person applies for my property I must consider their application along with everyone else’s.

                  I’m frankly amazed so many people have so much trouble understanding this! It’s not rocket science. If anything it’s pretty simple... even you should get it!

    @jaded and I'm amazed you don't understand the contextual difference of choosing which demographics to target an ad on TV to is different to opting out from targeting facebook ads to specific people based on race or creed.

    But it's clear I won't change your mind and you won't change mine so we should leave it at that.

      Regardless of their difference, targeted advertising does not constitute discrimination. The author provided a link to NSW legal information which clearly doesn’t include targeted advertising in its definition either (crappy journalism really).

      And besides, they are the same thing. Tv shows also have an audience demographic and ads will run during specific shows to target specific demographics. More than that, on the web entities associated with those shows, and possibly other offline media, networks will provide further ad placement to target the demographic. They probably provide analytics data to advertisers as well.

      You’re not going to sway my opinion because it’s based on how advertising works and the legal definition of discrimination. Two topics you’ve demonstrated you have zero insight into... much like the author of this article.


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