Black lawmakers press Facebook on ads that exclude users by race

Black lawmakers press Facebook on ads that exclude users by race
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Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are pressing Facebook to change an advertising feature that allows advertisers to exclude certain racial groups.

“We are writing to express our deep concerns with reports that Facebook’s 'Ethnic Affinities' advertising customization feature allows for advertisers to exclude specific racial and ethnic groups when placing housing advertisements,” they wrote in a letter to Facebook on Tuesday.

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“This is in direct violation of  the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and it is our strong desire to see Facebook address this issue immediately."

The letter was signed by Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), the ranking member of the Oversight Subcommittee on Information Technology, and members from the Energy and Commerce Committee, including CBC Chairman G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldOn The Money: Harley-Davidson decision raises trade tensions with Trump | Senate panel to take up tariff legislation | CBO projects grim budget outlook under Trump | White House objects to measure on reinstating ZTE ban Dem lawmakers seek distance from Waters call for confrontation 'Diamond & Silk' offer chance for bipartisan push back on social media censorship MORE (D-N.C.) and Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).

A ProPublica report last week revealed that Facebook’s ad portal allowed users to exclude African-Americans, Asian-Americans or Hispanics from housing listings.

Facebook said that its policies bar discrimination on its website and they take “prompt enforcement action” when they spot violations.

The lawmakers' letter also hammered Facebook on diversity at the Menlo Park, Calif., tech giant.

“With 2 percent of Facebook’s U.S. employees being African American, and 4 percent Hispanic, we remain convinced that a stronger commitment to diversifying the ranks of your company ... will help in ensuring that innovative and inclusive platforms continue to be promoted by your company,” they wrote.

The lawmakers asked Facebook to provide a response detailing what steps they were taking to ensure that they’re “not empowering discriminatory housing practices.”

"Multicultural marketing is a common practice in the ad industry and helps brands reach audiences with more relevant advertising," a Facebook spokesperson said in response to the letter.

"We've heard from groups and policy makers who are concerned about some of the ways our targeting tools could be used by advertisers. We are listening and working to better understand these concerns."

Facebook is not the only tech company in the past year that has been criticized for possibly allowing discrimination.

African-Americans users of Airbnb have used the #AirbnbWhileBlack hashtag on Twitter to share experiences of racial discrimination on the house-sharing company. Airbnb has since launched an initiative to try to tackle the problem.

A study published on Tuesday also showed significant discrimination against black users on ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

This story was updated at on Nov. 2 at 9:51 a.m.