Limiting a person's house choices can be "just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged Facebook Thursday with violating the Fair Housing Act, alleging that the company’s targeted advertising discriminated on the basis of race and ethnicity.
HUD said Facebook also restricted who could see housing-related ads based on national origin, religion, familial status, sex and disability.
“Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”
The company responded that it was surprised by the decision and had been working with HUD to address its concerns and has taken significant steps to prevent ad-discrimination across its platforms, saying last week it would create a new advertising portal for ads linked to housing and employment that would limit targeting options for advertisers.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing and related services, which includes online advertisements, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status.
A day earlier, the social media giant banned praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism, a move that drew approval from New Zealand’s prime minister after a massacre of 50 people in mosques was live streamed earlier this month.
Civil rights groups have said social media companies have failed to confront extremism after a suspected white supremacist broadcast live footage of his attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand. Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet's YouTube have been under pressure to remove white supremacist and neo-Nazi content from their platforms, along with fake news and other types of abusive posts.
In response, Facebook has increased its content monitoring teams and taken down event pages that were used to promote and organize rallies by white supremacist groups.
It wasn’t the first time Facebook face heated criticism of a lack of oversight of content sharing. The platform was accused by United Kingdom-based activist group Burma Campaign UK for allowing hate speech against the Rohingya population in 2018.