Facebook Still Lets Landlords Discriminate by Race and Disability in Apartment Ads

Mark Zuckerberg, designer of a platform that has made the world an objectively worse place, on November 9, 2017 (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Mark Zuckerberg, designer of a platform that has made the world an objectively worse place, on November 9, 2017 (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Last year, an explosive investigation by ProPublica revealed that Facebook was allowing advertisers to discriminate in housing ads by enabling landlords to filter out people who might view a given ad by their race. And today ProPublica released a follow-up to that investigation. Did Facebook fix its discrimination-enabling practices? Apparently not.


ProPublica purchased a number of different housing ads last week, but asked that they be unavailable to certain segments of the population. Ads that would exclude Jews, black people, and Americans originally from Argentina were reportedly all approved within minutes. Facebook’s targeting also allows advertisers to exclude other groups, such as people interested in wheelchair access and parents with high school-aged kids. These ads were approved quickly thanks to Facebook’s algorithmic approval process.

According to ProPublica, just one type of ad took longer than mere minutes for approval and that was a test ad excluding people who were interested in Islam. That ad was ultimately approved in just 22 minutes.

Obviously, all of these ads are in direct violation of US Fair Housing laws. But Facebook appears to have done nothing to ensure that it’s in compliance, despite swearing that it would set up safeguards. ProPublica asked Facebook about the ads and the company blamed it on a “technical failure,” rather than a systematic and inexcusable disinterest in adhering to US law.

“This was a failure in our enforcement and we’re disappointed that we fell short of our commitments,” a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo. “Earlier this year, we added additional safeguards to protect against the abuse of our multicultural affinity tools to facilitate discrimination in housing, credit and employment. The rental housing ads purchased by ProPublica should have but did not trigger the extra review and certifications we put in place due to a technical failure,” the spokesperson said.

Head over to ProPublica to read more.

Facebook wields an enormous amount of power and has shaped the US for the worse in so many ways. And the company has shown little interest in addressing the various ways that it has poisoned our world.


None of the shit Facebook does is a “technical failure.” They built this world for us and now we just have to live in it.


Update 4:37pm: I just had a call with a Facebook PR person who didn’t want to talk on the record.


He never did answer a question that I emailed earlier in the day which asked, “Does Facebook acknowledge that it has made the world an objectively worse place to live and if so, what does it plan to do in order to lessen the suffering that it causes on a daily basis?”


Hopefully they’re just thinking that one over and will get back to me soon.

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog



You’re not going to like this.

Ad filtering isn’t part of what’s described in the Fair Housing Act. Set aside the fact that the law predates even the concept of targeted social advertising, there’s never been a law against posting your property for rent/sale–for example–only at the local church bulletin board. Peep the text as quoted by propublica:

“with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.”

“indicates” is the clincher here.

If one assumes the ads themselves don’t explicitly state “no gays”, then in no way would the ad indicate preference, limitation or discrimination.

Is it wrong? Totes. Does it violate the spirit of the law? McGoats. Is there a judge anywhere that would take this case much less a prospect tenant with the cash, motivation, and ability to prove damages? Yeah, good luck with that.