Borrowing from ProPublica’s playbook, advocates created fake companies and bought discriminatory ads on the social network.
In February 2017, in response to a ProPublica investigation, Facebook pledged to crack down on efforts by advertisers of rental housing to discriminate against tenants based on race, disability, gender and other characteristics.
But a new lawsuit, filed Tuesday by the National Fair Housing Alliance in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, alleges that the world’s largest social network still allows advertisers to discriminate against legally protected groups, including mothers, the disabled and Spanish-language speakers.
Since 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, “it is all the more egregious and shocking” that “Facebook continues to enable landlords and real estate brokers to bar families with children, women and others from receiving rental and sales ads or housing,” the lawsuit states. It asks the court, among other things, to declare that Facebook’s policies violate fair housing laws, to bar the company from publishing discriminatory ads, and to require it to develop and make public a written fair housing policy for advertising.
Diane Houk, lead counsel for the alliance, said this type of discrimination is especially difficult to uncover and combat. “The person who is being discriminated against has no way to know” it, because the technology “keeps the discrimination hidden in hopes that it will not be caught,” she said.
Facebook disputes the housing groups’ allegations. “There is absolutely no place for discrimination on Facebook. We believe this lawsuit is without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously,” said Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne.
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