Federal housing laws prohibit the discrimination of people based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability and family status, but for years, civil rights advocates have been warning that Facebook’s ad targeting can be used to discriminate against these protected classes. Last year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a complaint that Facebook’s ad targeting options were in fact being misused to discriminate against protected classes of people. After lawsuits from housing groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), Facebook reached a settlement to make changes that will prevent landlords, employers, lenders, real estate professionals and others from discriminating against these protected classes.
In the past, Facebook has put the onus on their advertisers to use the targeting capabilities fairly and legally by providing anti-discrimination guidelines. When that proved ineffective, Facebook attempted to solve potential misuse of their ad targeting by removing over 5,000 ad targeting options.
Now, Facebook is planning a complete overhaul to their ad targeting options that will remove many of the options entirely to prevent people and companies offering housing, loans and jobs from discriminating against protected classes. Facebook will also be working with representatives from the NFHA to develop an in-house training program on fair housing for Facebook’s staff and leadership team. The NFHA will also monitor Facebook advertisers to ensure compliance with federal housing and lending laws.
The hyper-targeted ads on Facebook were an incredible asset to real estate agents who were not abusing them, and it’s too early to tell if Facebook’s new ads will be as effective with limited targeting options. However, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg expressed that “our job is to make sure these benefits continue while also making sure that our ads tools aren’t misused. There is a long history of discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and credit, and this harmful behavior should not happen through Facebook ads.”
The new ad targeting changes will not allow people in the housing, credit and employment industries to target by age or gender, or by options associated with protected classes. These advertising sectors will also require zip code-targeted ads to include a minimum 15-mile radius around the area to prevent regional discrimination, and will no longer consider age, gender and zip codes when creating “lookalike” audiences for advertisers.
One way the changes could actually be beneficial for real estate agents is through the new tool Facebook is creating that will allow users to search for all housing ads regardless of whether or not the user is actually in the targeted group. This could help make real estate ads more widely available than they currently are, and help agents reach interested people outside their immediate advertising area.
Facebook intends to roll out all these changes to their advertisements by the end of the year, and the changes will likely be reflected by other social media sites and big advertising providers, such as Google and Amazon.
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Patty McNease is vice president of Brand Marketing at Homes.com. For more information, please visit marketing.homes.com.