Facebook announced on Wednesday that it was temporarily disabling the option that allowed advertisers on its platform to exclude racial groups from among intended audiences for sponsored ads.
Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, told African-American U.S. lawmakers in a letter that the company was determined to do better after a news report said Facebook had failed to block discriminatory ads. It is unlawful under U.S. law to publish certain types of ads if they indicate a preference based on race, religion, sex, or certain classifications.
The U.S.-based news organization, ProPublica reported last week that, as part of a sting operation, it purchased discriminatory housing ads on Facebook and slipped them past the company’s review process, despite claims by Facebook that it was able to detect and block such ads.
“Until we can better ensure that our tools will not be used inappropriately, we are disabling the option that permits advertisers to exclude multicultural affinity segments from the audience for their ads,” Sandberg wrote in the letter to the Congressional Black Caucus.
Sandberg said in the letter that advertisers who use Facebook’s targeting options to include certain races for ads about housing, employment, or credit will have to certify to Facebook that they are complying with Facebook’s anti-discrimination policy and with applicable law. Sandberg defended race and culture-based marketing in general, saying it was a common and legitimate practice in the ad industry to try to reach specific communities.
U.S. Representative Robin Kelly, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Facebook’s actions were appropriate. “When I first raised this issue with Facebook, I was disappointed,” Kelly, a Democrat, said in a statement. “When it became necessary to raise the issue again, I was irritated. Thankfully, we’ve been able to establish a constructive pipeline of communication that’s resulted in a positive step forward.”