It was first reported a year ago that Facebook enabled advertisers to decide who would see their ads based on “ethnic affinity.” Facebook doesn’t ask its users to dislose their racial identity but it does collect data and assigns preferences for content that is likely to appeal to people within an ethnic group. Facebook then offered advertisers the choice to target those users or avoid them altogether based on that “ethnic identity.” Facebook said back then that it would not allow ethnic affinity ads for housing and jobs on its platform again but a new report reveals that it’s still possible to run such ads.


ProPublica first reported on this issue last year and it has now released a new report. The scribe confirms that it was able to make dozens of rental housing ads that were discriminatory against some ethnic groups and they were approved by Facebook.

All but one of the ads were approved in minutes. Facebook took about 22 minutes to approve an ad that excluded potential renters who were “interested in Islam, Sunni Islam and Shia Islam.” That ad was also approved. Facebook’s own policies say that the vetting process should have flagged the discriminatory language in the ads but clearly, that didn’t happen.

Ads can’t discriminate on the basis of race in three areas as mandated by federal law and that’s employment, housing, and credit. Facebook said last year that it would end ethnic affinity options for these areas.

Facebook has said that the ads run by ProPublica were approved due to a technical error which miscategorized them. It says that’s why the compliance and review flags weren’t raised.

The company’s VP of Product Management Ami Vora also said that “This was a failure in our enforcement and we’re disappointed that we fell short of our commitments.”

Vora also said that ”While we currently require compliance notifications of advertisers that seek to place ads for housing, employment, and credit opportunities, we will extend this requirement to ALL advertisers who choose to exclude some users from seeing their ads on Facebook to also confirm their compliance with our anti-discrimination policies – and the law.”

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