How Facebook Is Stepping Up Its Efforts to Thwart Discriminatory Advertising

The social network developed several new policies and tools since last November's promise to fight discriminatory ads

Facebook is starting to make good on last fall’s promises regarding measures to prevent discriminatory advertising.

The social network announced in a Newsroom post that it has developed several new policies and tools since last November’s declarations, including updated advertising policies, more information to educate advertisers and stronger enforcement tools.

Facebook explained its changes in the Newsroom post:

Over the past several months, we’ve met with policymakers and civil-rights leaders to gather feedback about ways to improve our enforcement while preserving the beneficial uses of our advertising tools. We heard concerns that discriminatory advertising can wrongfully deprive people of opportunities and experiences, particularly in the areas of housing, employment and credit, where certain groups historically have faced discrimination.

Those policymakers and civil-rights experts include:

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

  • Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including chairman Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and Reps. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.) and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.)
  • The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.)
  • Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus
  • The American Civil Liberties Union
  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • The Center for Democracy & Technology
  • The NAACP Legal Defense Fund
  • The National Fair Housing Alliance
  • The Brookings Institution
  • Upturn

On that note, the social network updated its advertising policies to stress that advertisers cannot use its ad-targeting capabilities to discriminate against users based on race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, disability or medical or genetic condition.

Facebook also added a section on discriminatory practices to its advertising policies, containing additional information, along with educational resources from government agencies and civil-rights groups that specialize in combating discrimination.

And the social network provided details on the stronger enforcement tools it is developing:

We’re beginning to test new technology that leverages machine learning to help us identify ads that offer housing, employment or credit opportunities—the types of advertising stakeholders told us they were concerned about. This will allow us to more quickly provide notices and educational information to advertisers and more quickly respond to violations of our policy. Specifically, we’ve made these changes:

Disapproving ads offering housing, employment or credit opportunities that use our multicultural affinity segments: When an advertiser attempts to show an ad that we identify as offering a housing, employment or credit opportunity and either includes or excludes our multicultural advertising segments—which consist of people interested in seeing content related to the African-American, Asian-American and U.S. Hispanic communities—we will disapprove the ad.

Requiring self-certification: When an advertiser attempts to show an ad that we identify as offering a housing, employment or credit opportunity and uses any other audience segment on Facebook, we will show the advertiser information about our updated anti-discrimination policy. We will then require the advertiser to certify that it is complying with that policy and with applicable anti-discrimination laws.

As for future plans on the anti-discriminatory front, Facebook said in the Newsroom post:

Since committing to these changes last fall, we’ve heard from public- and private-sector organizations that want us to know there’s value in being able to reach specific groups with information about products, services and causes that they might find relevant. Several organizations have asked us to work with them to help identify ways that our advertising technology could be used to promote inclusion and opportunity for underserved communities, while also protecting against discriminatory uses. We believe in the power of our advertising products to create opportunities for people from all backgrounds, so we are committed to working with these groups toward that goal.

Readers: What are your thoughts on Facebook’s efforts thus far to stamp out discriminatory advertising?