Facebook and Washington shut down racially-targeted ads

Facebook users

Facebook advertisers will no longer be able to target users based on their religion, sexual orientation or ethnic background in the United States, after the social media giant signed an agreement in Washington to overhaul their advertising practices.

The deal concludes a two-year investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, which saw undercover investigators create a number of ‘fake ads’ that excluded one or more ethnic minorities from viewing their advertisements for restaurants, housing, insurance, and employment opportunities. All 20 were approved.

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

Box ticking

Facebook has already implemented many of the changes needed in preparation for the agreement.

In November 2017, the site ‘temporarily’ suspended all exclusion options based on users’ ethnicities. The Washington agreement requires Facebook to make the change permanent, while removing all other tools that “discriminate based on race, creed, color, national origin, veteran or military status, sexual orientation and disability status.”

Facebook must meet the agreed terms within 90 days, in addition to paying the $90,000 legal fees of the Attorney General's Office.

The move signals progress for the social media giant, which is continuing to grow its user base even in the face of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and ongoing concerns over misuse of user data.