Facebook ads that seem to violate anti-discrimination laws are the company’s golden goose earning them a net income of $2.38 billion as of September 30. According to The Guardian, the social media giant almost tripled its profits in the third quarter of this year with a 59 percent year-over-year increase that came solely from advertising revenue.
Although things might change for Facebook now that lobbyists have targeted its ads for violating anti-discrimination laws. Facebook ads are one of marketers’ favorite tools because they can target a specific group of customers for their brands, and it is this system that is causing problems for Mark Zuckerberg and company.
According to the New York Times, Facebook ads are often the go-to advertising tool of marketers because it allows them to narrow down their targeted customer not only by age, location and gender but also by what their hobbies are or what their professions are.
One other criterion that lets marketers narrow down their targeted customers is Facebook’s “ethnic affinity marketing solution.” This particular criterion lets marketers choose who they want to offer their products or services to by excluding people of certain ethnic affinities.
In this system, Facebook users can’t choose their ethnic affinity because the social media site automatically chooses the category where they supposedly fit best. Facebook categorizes users through their interests and activities that they present on the social media site.
Instead of categorizing a person based on his/her actual ethnic affiliation, the social media site looks at his/her activities, likes and other factors to determine what ethnic affinity he/she belongs to. The system enables Facebook to categorize a person as either African-American, Asian-American or Native American by looking at their activities and other factors, which often leads the social media site to erroneous results.
One user who works for the New York Times said that though she’s an Indian-American, her ethnic affinity in the social media site isn’t listed as so.
But the more worrying aspect of Facebook ads is this system, which encourages marketers to exclude other people all because of their ethnic affinities—a violation of the anti-discrimination laws that the country has been fighting to uphold.
According to ProPublica, a non-profit news outfit, Facebook ads are violating anti-discrimination laws because they enable marketers to exclude people of certain ethnic affinities in favor of other people. ProPublica published their findings showing that Facebook ads on housing and employment encourage marketers to exclude certain races, which is what the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were fighting against.
The news outfit bought a Facebook ad on housing and they decided to see how far their tools on excluding people of certain ethic affinity would go. They narrowed down the Facebook ad’s target customers and excluded people who might be African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic.
ProPublica presented their findings to a civil-rights lawyer who clearly saw that Facebook ads violate anti-discrimination laws, particularly the Fair Housing Act. Fortunately, Facebook has addressed the issue and they are working to resolve this problem.
Erin Egan, the chief privacy officer of Facebook, wrote about the issue on their blog, and she said that they will stop using ads that target users by race. She said that there are other ways to use the company’s ethnic affinity solution that are anti-discriminatory but they thought it best to just do away with the whole system.
As soon as Facebook decided to stop using ads that violate anti-discrimination laws, notable people have commended their decision. Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives Yvette D. Clark praised Facebook’s decision to stop using ads that violate anti-discrimination laws and offered a suggestion to further the cause to stop racial prejudice.
Clark said that technology companies such as Facebook should not lose focus on the lack of diversity in their field, and they can end the discrimination by expanding their personnel to include and retain people of color and women.
[Featured Image by Matt Rourke/AP Images]