After years of heavy scrutiny for using targeting tools to impose discrimination, social media giant Facebook has quietly removed the racial targeting option for advertisements on its platform, SFist reports.
This ongoing issue with Facebook has been an advertising scandal for the last four years, according to SFist. The first instance with the platform was uncovered back in 2016 when it was revealed that Facebook allowed advertisers to exclude users based on their race.
SFist reports that website, ProPublica, then published an article sharing their own investigative report detailing how the new ad-option allowed advertisers to block a housing advertisement from being shown to Black, Asian, and Hispanic users’ feeds.
Journalist Julia Angwin and her colleagues are credited for tracking updates on this scandal over the years and have committed to holding Facebook accountable in this matter.
Thank you for the shoutout!
It is kind of amazing that it took four years of reporting on illegal discrimination in Facebook ads for this change to finally take place.
And of course, there are still tons of ways to discriminate by zip code, proxy variables etc.
— Julia Angwin (@JuliaAngwin) August 31, 2020
Facebook’s marketing arm called “Facebook For Business” quietly announced the news in a blog post last month that stated they would be eliminating some of their various targeting options as they’re infrequently used.
“We’re removing multicultural affinity segments and encouraging advertisers to use other targeting options such as language or culture to reach people that are interested in multicultural content,” Facebook stated. “We continue to support product solutions for multicultural marketing while guarding against their potential for misuse.”
Despite not making a huge announcement about their new decision to remove these racial tactics from their platform, Facebook product designer Kian Lavi took to social media to speak up about the removal of racial profiling options on the platform.
According to Lavi’s tweet, this targeting project has been in the works for three years, and based on the number of reports that came out, it’s possible that Facebook felt the pressure of getting called out by users and reporters who were outraged.
Additionally, the Trump administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development even pursued legal action to sue Facebook over housing discrimination because of the racial tactics they were using for advertisers, according to WIRED’s report from last year.
SFist reports while the unresolved lawsuit was a huge call-out for Facebook, the $5 billion fine they received last year for mishandling data is no match for the astronomical profits the platform rakes in annually.
As we hope the adjustment to Facebook’s targeting options will eliminate racial bias from its platform, it’s clear there’s a larger conversation to be had about its role in modern-day discrimination online.