Your Facebook Real Estate Ad Could Be Discriminatory

Your Facebook Real Estate Ad Could Be Discriminatory

UPDATE: MARCH 1, 2017

Facebook teamed up with policymakers and civil rights leaders to develop tools and policies that make prohibition against discrimination in advertising easier to enforce. There are three specific measures Facebook has taken:

  1. Updated advertising policies: Facebook updated their policies to make existing prohibitions against discrimination even stronger. They make it clear that advertisers may not discriminate against people based on personal attributes such as race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, disability, medical or genetic condition. (See Section 4 of Facebook’s advertisers policy page.)
  2. Advertiser education: Facebook also created a new section which provides additional information about their anti-discrimination policy as well as educational resources from government agencies and civil rights groups that specialize in combating discrimination.
  3. Stronger enforcement tools: Facebook is testing new technology that leverages machine learning to help identify ads that offer housing, employment or credit opportunities — the types of advertising stakeholders told us they were concerned about. This allows Facebook to more quickly provide notices and educational information to advertisers; and more quickly respond to violations of our policy.

Facebook will not approve ads offering housing opportunities that use their multicultural affinity segments. When an advertiser attempts to show an ad that they identify as offering a housing opportunity and either includes or excludes multicultural advertising segments – Facebook will disapprove the ad.

When an advertiser attempts to show an ad that Facebook identifies as offering a housing opportunity and uses any other audience segment on Facebook, they will show the advertiser information about its updated anti-discrimination policy. Facebook will then require the advertiser to certify that it is complying with that policy and with applicable anti-discrimination laws.

When it comes to advertising real estate, you cannot discriminate on the basis of ethnicity. This holds true on Facebook. Same prohibitions against discrimination established by The Fair Housing Act apply to the digital world.

When in doubt, just don’t use the Ethnic Affinities feature of Facebook’s Ads Manager.



In the Real Estate industry, targeted ads can potentially be used illegally. The 1968 Fair Housing Act prohibits the use of discriminatory advertisements for the sale of a home that are “based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” Facebook has an ad customization option, “Ethnic Affinities,” that allows advertisers, inadvertently or not, to do exactly that. They can target specific groups — or exclude them.

ProPublica, an investigative journalism resource, tested this feature by posting an ad for a housing event that it requested not be shown to anyone with an “Ethnic Affinity” of African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic. The ad received approval within 15 minutes.

This is a slippery slope for real estate agents because the ad was for an event, not for actually selling a house. Technically speaking, it was not illegal. Civil rights attorney John Relman, told CNNMoney there are numerous non-discrimination laws at both the federal and local level that could potentially be violated with ads that exclude minorities.

“The problem is when Facebook develops a tool like that … if it’s an advertiser who’s working in a part of the market covered by discrimination laws, like the housing market, then Facebook is going to be liable for discrimination,” Relman said. Facebook uses humans and algorithms to screen and approve all ads. It could easily miss one that’s discriminatory.

[Facebook] realizes it’s a powerful tool being able to sort people based on race or gender,” Relman said. “But this can be used in insidious ways to exclude people and it’s a very dangerous practice.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Facebook confirmed the company prohibits people from using ads to discriminate: “Our policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate, and they require compliance with the law. We take prompt enforcement action when we determine that ads violate our policies.”

Here is your takeaway: simply do not use the “Ethnic Affinity” category when targeting your ad. Your ad can be pulled and you could, worst case scenario, be held liable for illegal discrimination.

You already know about The Fair Housing Act and that you cannot discriminate because of race or color, national origin, religion, gender, familial status or disability.

This is just a reminder that this holds true with digital ads, especially on Facebook.

Just. Don’t. Go. There.