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HUD hits Facebook with housing discrimination complaint

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is accusing Facebook of violating the Fair Housing Act....

Posted: Aug 18, 2018 3:30 PM
Updated: Aug 18, 2018 3:30 PM

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is accusing Facebook of violating the Fair Housing Act.

The agency filed a formal complaint against the social media company on Friday, alleging that it allows landlords and home sellers to use targeted Facebook ads to discriminate against potential buyers or tenants on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability and other characteristics.

"When Facebook uses the vast amount of personal data it collects to help advertisers to discriminate, it's the same as slamming the door in someone's face," Anna María Farías, assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said in a statement.

Facebook responded to the allegation with a statement insisting that "there is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it's strictly prohibited in our policies. Over the past year we've strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse... and we'll continue working directly with HUD to address their concerns."

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits home rental and sale advertisements from discriminating "based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin."

In its complaint, the federal housing agency outlined several ways landlords or sellers can use Facebook ads to do just that. They could, for example, decide to show the ads to only men, or ensure that their ads don't appear in the feeds of anyone with "accessibility" listed as an interest.

The National Fair Housing Alliance made the same argument in a federal lawsuit against the social media company. The case, filed in March in New York City, claims that Facebook's advertising tools continue to allow marketers to exclude women and families with children from seeing certain housing ads.

Diane L. Houk, one of the attorneys who filed that suit, called Friday's complaint "a very important step by HUD to enforce the Fair Housing Act."

HUD and the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York also filed documents bolstering the suit brought by the housing advocates. In a statement of interest filed with the court, they rejected Facebook's argument that it is protected from the federal housing law by the Communications Decency Act, which limits the liability of website operators.

The government argued that Facebook should in this case be classified as an internet content provider and is therefore subject to the Fair Housing Act.

Facebook said it "will respond in court" to the statement of interest.

Some of the details outlined in the HUD complaint, such as accusations of exclusion based on religion or an interest in "deaf culture" do not appear in the lawsuit filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

Houk said it is "very troubling to see that these categories are still available," especially "given the amount of public statements and coverage ... over the last two years."

According to the HUD complaint, the alleged violations occurred as recently as last month. But Facebook has faced such accusations since 2016, when ProPublica reported posting an ad for a housing event that it requested not be shown to anyone with what Facebook's ad tool calls an "ethnic affinity" of African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic.

"Our policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate, and they require compliance with the law," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement at the time. "We take prompt enforcement action when we determine that ads violate our policies."

ProPublica said last year that it was able to buy dozens of home rental advertisements targeted toward audiences that specifically excluded "African Americans, mothers of high school kids, people interested in wheelchair ramps, Jews, expats from Argentina and Spanish speakers."

— CNN's Seth Fiegerman contributed to this report.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 484675

Reported Deaths: 9480
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33151493
Hinds31184589
DeSoto30803365
Jackson23735349
Rankin21390373
Lee14963221
Madison14206272
Jones13430227
Forrest13199241
Lauderdale11623307
Lowndes10501176
Lamar10258130
Pearl River9151221
Lafayette8268137
Hancock7534113
Washington7144152
Oktibbeha6989124
Monroe6533167
Neshoba6489201
Warren6486166
Pontotoc632993
Panola6278127
Marshall6165126
Bolivar6129145
Union576089
Pike5626138
Alcorn540590
Lincoln5310132
George473572
Scott461596
Leflore4495140
Tippah448180
Prentiss447979
Itawamba4457100
Adams4429117
Tate4420103
Wayne434667
Simpson4339114
Copiah432988
Yazoo423686
Covington417192
Sunflower4155104
Marion4111104
Coahoma3986100
Leake398286
Newton372375
Grenada3565104
Stone351360
Tishomingo338389
Attala325987
Jasper316062
Winston305691
Clay297374
Chickasaw287866
Clarke283290
Calhoun267741
Holmes262887
Smith252249
Yalobusha224347
Tallahatchie221150
Walthall211758
Greene209945
Lawrence207034
Perry201054
Amite199452
Webster196942
Noxubee179339
Montgomery172954
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162537
Tunica154235
Benton143035
Kemper138840
Choctaw128826
Claiborne127134
Humphreys127038
Franklin116928
Quitman104227
Wilkinson102036
Jefferson91533
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 790648

Reported Deaths: 14025
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1117431765
Mobile709021237
Madison50032633
Shelby36350315
Baldwin36278495
Tuscaloosa34034548
Montgomery33229678
Lee22712220
Calhoun21297410
Morgan19852335
Etowah19341462
Marshall17716274
Houston16862386
St. Clair15479305
Cullman14659258
Limestone14609188
Elmore14507264
Lauderdale13557281
Talladega13015236
DeKalb12214237
Walker10604330
Blount9735157
Autauga9691137
Jackson9400158
Coffee8934175
Dale8631173
Colbert8545184
Tallapoosa6688181
Escambia6599121
Covington6466167
Chilton6395144
Russell608755
Franklin5805101
Chambers5425134
Marion4818120
Dallas4713189
Clarke464079
Pike463297
Geneva4433117
Winston427395
Lawrence4124108
Bibb410281
Barbour347470
Marengo326485
Monroe320253
Butler318490
Randolph306656
Pickens306474
Henry302658
Hale293085
Cherokee290855
Fayette280373
Washington245548
Crenshaw238770
Cleburne236751
Clay229265
Macon220658
Lamar200443
Conecuh182046
Coosa170835
Lowndes170858
Wilcox159736
Bullock149543
Perry136537
Sumter124736
Greene121443
Choctaw73427
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