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Examining HUD’s Fair Housing Act Charges Against Facebook

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it is charging Facebook for violating the Fair Housing Act by allowing landlords and home sellers to use its advertising platform to engage in housing discrimination.

HUD claims Facebook enables advertisers to control which users receive housing-related ads based upon the recipient’s race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, disability, and/or ZIP code. HUD alleges that Facebook then invites advertisers to express unlawful preferences by offering discriminatory options, allowing them to effectively limit housing options for these protected classes under the guise of "targeted advertising."

“Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”

HUD originally leveled a complaint against Facebook back in August 2018, MReport reported, claiming that Facebook violates the Fair Housing Act by enabling advertisers to:

  • display housing ads either only to men or women;
  • not show ads to Facebook users interested in an “assistance dog,” “mobility scooter,” “accessibility,” or “deaf culture”
  • not show ads to users whom Facebook categorizes as interested in “child care” or “parenting,” or show ads only to users with children above a specified age
  • display/not display ads to users whom Facebook categorizes as interested in a particular place of worship, religion, or tenet, such as the “Christian Church,” “Sikhism,” “Hinduism,” or the “Bible”
  • not show ads to users whom Facebook categorizes as interested in “Latin America,” “Canada,” “Southeast Asia,” “China,” “Honduras,” or “Somalia”
  • draw a red line around ZIP codes and then not display ads to Facebook users who live in specific zip codes

HUD’s charge against Facebook claims that Facebook allows advertisers to specifically exclude people whom Facebook classified as parents; non-American-born; non-Christian; interested in accessibility; interested in Hispanic culture; or a wide variety of other interests that closely align with the Fair Housing Act’s protected classes. Additionally, through its charge, HUD claims Facebook allowed advertisers to draw a red line around certain neighborhoods, excluding those neighborhoods from advertisements.

In a release, HUD stated that through its charge, it “seeks to address unresolved fair housing issues regarding Facebook’s advertising practices and to obtain appropriate relief for the harm Facebook caused and continues to cause.”

According to HUD, the agency's charge will now be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge "unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court. If an administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, he may award damages for harm caused by the discrimination. The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose fines to vindicate the public interest. If the matter is decided in federal court, the judge may also award punitive damages."

Read HUD’s charge here.

About Author: Seth Welborn

Seth Welborn is a Harding University graduate with a degree in English and a minor in writing. He is a contributing writer for MReport. An East Texas Native, he has studied abroad in Athens, Greece and works part-time as a photographer.
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