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Lawsuit accuses Facebook of enabling housing discrimination

Facebook allows advertisers to target or exclude certain demographic groups within Michigan and nationwide. When applied to housing ads, this practice can amount to discrimination according to a lawsuit against the social media company from the National Fair Housing Alliance and three other advocacy groups. The secretary of the Housing and Urban Development has also expressed concern about the apparently discriminatory practices enabled by Facebook that prevent people from viewing ads for available housing.

The complaint from HUD detailed how landlords or home sellers can use the Facebook advertising system to filter out users by race, religion, disability, sex and other characteristics like zip code. The extensive personal information collected about Facebook users gives advertisers the ability to block ads from people interested in things like mobility scooters or deaf culture, which could translate into housing discrimination on the basis of disability. Property advertisers planning to avoid family tenants could withhold ads from people who had interests about child care of parenting.

Facebook responded to the lawsuit with the assertion that it only functions as an interactive computer service. The court denied Facebook's motion to dismiss because the company provides advertisers with the tools to violate the Fair Housing Act.

Even when a person finds an open unit, discrimination might persist. A person who applied to join a cooperative housing community might have been the victim of co-op housing discrimination if a denial seemed motivated by prejudices concerning family status, disability, race, religion, age or gender. The insights of an attorney may help a person understand their civil rights and lodge a legal complaint. An attorney might be able to resolve the problem through direct communication or by filing a lawsuit.

Source: NPR, "HUD Hits Facebook For Allowing Housing Discrimination", Brakkton Booker, Aug. 19, 2018

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