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Facebook users sue network over ‘racist’ ads

Facebook’s advertising platform has come under fire recently after it emerged that it allowed advertisers to exclude certain races from being targeted in ads.

According to an investigation by ProPublica, the ad platform gives people the ability to exclude “ethnic affinities”. In fact, the publication was able to publish an ad in Facebook’s housing category that excluded African Americans, Hispanic people and Asian Americans.

“This is horrifying. This is massively illegal. This is about as blatant a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act as one can find,” civil rights lawyer John Relman said in reaction to the ad.

A Facebook representative denied that it was a case of racial discrimination, telling the publication that the setting allowed advertisers to test various campaigns. The representative suggested that one company could run a campaign in English (excluding the Hispanic population) before running the campaign in Spanish.

Facebook’s ad platform doesn’t allow users to exclude white people from the target audience, a lawsuit filing claims

The representative added that it wasn’t the same as race, as the network assigns an “ethnic affinity” based on pages the user likes.

However, when ProPublica asked the representative why it was in the demographic section if it didn’t represent demographics, he claimed that they were planning to move the field to another section.

Now, Ars Technica has reported that three users have gone to court over the matter.

The proposed lawsuit doesn’t seek to remove the “exclude people” option, saying that¬†“there are legal, desirable uses for such functionalities”. However, the suit hopes to end the “illegal, proscribed uses” of the function.

“There is no option in Facebook’s platform to exclude the ‘demographic’ of white or Caucasian Americans from the target audience,” the lawsuit filing claims.

Author | Hadlee Simons

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings almost seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More