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Washington AG Prompts Facebook Ban on Discriminatory Ads

Facebook reaches an agreement with Washington State Attorney General’s office to prohibit discriminatory advertising practices on its platform.

by / July 25, 2018

Facebook advertisers will no longer be allowed to block immigrants, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTQ individuals and other protected groups from seeing their ads, the Washington State Attorney General announced Tuesday.

Under the agreement with the AG’s office, Facebook agreed to make the changes within 90 days. It will be legally binding in Washington state, but the social media giant plans to make the change nationwide on its platform, according to the AG’s office.
For the social media giant, the ban on discriminatory advertisements is the latest advertising snafu to entangle the tech giant. The company caught a firestorm of heat over running political advertisements from dubious sources that emerged in the 2016 elections, and questions about its screening efforts continue to linger.

The AG’s investigation began 20 months ago, after ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative news site, published an article about Facebook’s advertising platform, claiming it allowed advertisers, such as housing, credit, employment, insurance and lodging businesses, to exclude certain groups.

“Facebook’s advertising platform allowed unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, sexual orientation, disability and religion,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “That’s wrong, illegal, and unfair.”

Facebook’s advertising platform allowed advertisers to exclude African-Americans, Latinos and other ethnic groups, but did not have the same option for Caucasians, the attorney general’s office stated, noting such practices violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination.

As part of its investigation, the AG’s office created 20 bogus ads that excluded various minority groups in its advertisements, ranging from nightclubs to apartment rentals. Facebook’s platform approved all 20 advertisements, according to the AG’s office.

And although Facebook in February 2017 vowed to improve enforcement against discrimination in housing, employment and credit advertisements on its platform, ProPublica was able to purchase rental housing advertisements on Facebook nine months later that excluded individuals who were Jewish, African-American and, or, interested in wheelchair ramps. Within that same month of the ProPublica report, Facebook removed all exclusion options for ethnic groups on a temporary basis. However, advertisers were able to exclude other protected groups, based on religious affiliation, sexual orientation or veteran status.

Under the AG agreement, Facebook will be required to deploy broader and permanent fixes and pay $90,000 in costs and fees to the Washington Attorney General’s office.

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