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Facebook Engaging In Housing Discrimination HUD Charges

The Grace Hill training tip of the week focuses on a Facebook housing discrimination charge by HUD and how Fair Housing Laws apply to social media posts and property management.

Facebook is violating the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by allowing landlords and home sellers to use its advertising platform to engage in housing discrimination, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charges in a housing discrimination complaint.

“Facebook invites advertisers to express unlawful preferences by offering discriminatory options, allowing them to effectively limit housing options for these protected classes under the guise of ‘targeted advertising.’

“The alleged policies and practices of Facebook violate the Fair Housing Act based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability,” the complaint states.

HUD is charging Facebook with housing discrimination for the following:

  1. The company unlawfully discriminates by enabling advertisers to restrict which Facebook users receive housing-related ads based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, natural origin and disability.

  2. It mines extensive user data and classifies its users based on protected characteristics.

  3. Facebook’s ad targeting tools then invite advertisers to express unlawful preferences by suggesting discriminatory options.

  4. Facebook effectuates the delivery of housing-related ads to certain users and not to others based on those users’ actual or imputed protected traits.

Some of the ways the HUD complaint says Facebook discriminates using its ad targeting tools

  1. Enables advertisers to discriminate based on sex by showing ads only to men or only to women.

  2. Allows advertisers to discriminate based on disability by not showing ads to users whom Facebook characterizes as interested in assistance dog, mobility scooter, accessibility or deaf culture.

  3. Showing ads to users with children only above a certain age.

  4. Enables advertisers to discriminate based on race by drawing a red line around majority-minority zip codes and not showing ads to users who live in those zip codes.

You can read HUD’s complaint here: Housing Discrimination Complaint.

The FHA prohibits discrimination in housing transactions, including print and online advertisement on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status.

In past posts, we’ve covered some basic guidelines to ensure your advertisements and social media don’t violate fair housing law.

But what about some of the more subtle situations – ones where you may not even realize you could be doing something that might be viewed as discriminatory?

Housing discrimination does not have to be intentional to be illegal

Remember, discrimination doesn’t have to be intentional to be illegal.

If your words or images have the effect of discouraging prospective residents from applying to live in your community, that may be enough to violate the fair housing law.

Let’s look at an apartment community example

Imagine your community is 80% white.

You like to use real photographs from community events on social media.

Because your community is mostly white, the pictures you post generally only show people who are white. You might think there is no risk of a discrimination claim. After all, your intention is not to discriminate. You are only trying to show real images of your community.

Showing diversity on social media posts can prevent discrimination accusations

However, if the images you post have the effect of discouraging people with darker skin from applying to live in your community, you could be at risk.

This could be discrimination based on color under fair housing law.

Using images in social media posts is a great way to appeal to customers.

However, make sure the images you use across your social media communications show diversity.

Consider all federal, state, and locally protected classes

For example, show males and females, people of different races, people with disabilities, a variety of ages, and families with and without children.

Show diversity when using avatars, animated characters, and illustrations, too.

You must be just as mindful of fair housing laws when sharing information and interacting with customers online as you are when sharing information and interacting in print and in person.

You are responsible for not acting in a discriminatory way, no matter what form of communication you are using.


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