The Department of Housing and Urban Development has charged Facebook with violating the Fair Housing Act.
On Thursday, the HUD announced it would file charges against the social media platform after it found Facebook was violating the federal act by “encouraging, enabling, and causing” housing discrimination through its advertising platform. “Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”
These new reports go back to last August when a formal complaint was filed against Facebook, claiming the company was allowing landlords and people selling homes to use its advertising platform to “engage in housing discrimination.” The complaint said advertisers could choose who sees housing-related ads based on race, religion, sex, disability and other characteristics.
Facebook announced last week that it would be paying $5 million to settle several lawsuits in which people claimed they were the victim of discrimination while trying to find homes. The complaints alleged the advertising platform allowed for discrimination in housing, employment and credit ads. In addition, the website announced it would roll out an entirely new advertising portal for housing, employment and credit ads that feature less discriminatory options, as well as a new page where U.S. users can search for and view current housing-related ads even if they didn’t appear on their News Feed, according to reports.
On Thursday, Facebook said it was “surprised” by HUD’s decision, claiming it had been working to resolve the issue. “We’re disappointed by today’s developments, but we’ll continue working with civil rights experts on these issues,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
One ProPublica report from November 2017 found Facebook featured discriminatory home-rental ads that specifically targeted and excluded “African Americans, mothers of high school kids, people interested in wheelchair ramps, Jews, expats from Argentina and Spanish speakers.”