Facebook has come under fire this week after a report by ProPublica pointed out that the site allows advertisers to target and exclude which users see their ads based on ‘ethnic affinity’.
As Facebook explained in a recent blog post, rather than explicitly allow advertisers to target or exclude people based on their race, Facebook instead ‘gives advertisers the ability to reach people whose likes and other activity on Facebook suggest they’re interested in content relating to particular ethnic communities.’ While the feature isn’t new, and was reportedly first implemented as part of Facebook’s ‘multicultural advertising’ efforts a couple years back, the authors of ProPublica’s report claim that it’s both incredibly problematic and potentially illegal — and they brought the receipts to prove it.
In their article, authors Julia Angwin and Terry Parris Jr. had purchased an ad related to housing, and excluded the ethnic affinities ‘African American (US),’ ‘Asian American (US),’ and ‘Hispanic (US – Spanish dominant).’
It was instantly approved.
When they showed their findings to civil rights lawyer John Relman, he responded, ‘This is horrifying…. This is massively illegal.’
Facebook released a response to the criticism on Friday with a post from their Head of Multicural, Christian Martinez. In the post, Martinez claims that the feature was implemented to help make ads more relevant for both users and advertisers.
‘For example, a nonprofit that’s hosting a career fair for the Hispanic community can use Facebook ads to reach people who have an interest in that community,’ he wrote. ‘And a merchant selling haircare products that are designed for black women can reach people who are most likely to want its products.’
He also went on to write that Facebook does not tolerate misuse of the feature.
‘We believe that multicultural advertising should be a tool for empowerment,’ he continued. ‘We take a strong stand against advertisers misusing our platform: our policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate, and they require compliance with the law. We take prompt enforcement action when we determine that ads violate our policies.’
According to ProPublica, the website declined to answer why their housing ad — an apparent violation of their policies — was approved.
This story originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com.
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