Facebook was sued on Tuesday by several civil rights groups who allege that the social media company with over 2 billion users allows advertisers to discriminate in violation of several different federal laws.
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and three member organizations filed the joint suit in federal court in New York City. They are asking the court to give an immediate ruling that Facebook’s online housing advertisements violate civil rights protections in the Fair Housing Act.
More than a year ago the nonprofit news organization ProPublica released findings of a study they did that proved that advertisers were using Facebook to target ads for housing to certain groups only. What was happening was this: many advertisements for apartments were seen by only white people. Obviously this is a clear violation of federal fair housing laws.
Facebook of course was very apologetic when this was reported in the press and promised that it would never happen again. The social media giant pledged to stop ads that were discriminatory by excluding certain groups seeking housing, employment or credit.
But recently ProPublica followed up on their initial analysis of Facebook ads and found that Facebook was still selling rental housing ads that excluded groups like black people, mothers of high school kids and Jewish people.
The lawsuit alleges that the social media giant gives housing advertisers the option to “exclude families with children and women from receiving advertisements, as well as users with interests based on disability and national origin. Then Facebook approves and permits advertisers to publish these ads in a discriminatory manner without consumers ever knowing they have been excluded.”
“Facebook’s use and abuse of user data for discriminatory purposes needs to stop. It is already a challenge for women, families with children, people with disabilities and other under-served groups to find housing,” Lisa Rice, NFHA’s President and CEO, said in a statement. “Facebook’s platform that excludes these consumers from ever seeing certain ads to rent or buy housing must be changed immediately. Facebook ought to be opening doors to housing opportunities instead of closing them.”
The new lawsuit comes one day after attorneys general of 37 states have joined forces to investigate Facebook’s data practices. Facebook is also being sued in U.S. by its users over improper data harvesting, and the FTC Opened an investigation into Facebook’s violation of a 2011 consent decree.
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified monetary damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees.