Last year, Facebook quietly moved to prevent advertisers from choosing the race
of the people who would see their ads. The move—which eliminated ad targeting categories like “African American multicultural affinity”—came after years of criticism of the company for failing to prevent such categories from being misused to discriminate against people. Federal law prohibits racial discrimination in employment, housing, and credit opportunities, and time after time, researchers and journalists had found ads in those categories on the platform clearly targeted at Facebook users of certain races.
In response, Facebook—which has long argued that advertisers, rather than the company, are responsible for properly complying with civil rights laws—has largely taken a piecemeal approach. When a reporting team at ProPublica (led by now Markup editor-in-chief Julia Angwin), as part of a 2016 investigation
into discrimination, was able to buy housing ads that excluded people of certain “ethnic affinity” categories on Facebook, the platform eliminated the “ethnic affinity” categories”
for certain types of ads. And then last year, when The Markup found
a job ad targeted to people of “African American multicultural affinity,” Facebook killed the “multicultural affinity” category
But while advertisers can’t explicitly target “Black,” “Latino,” or “Asian” Facebook users with their ads, The Markup has found a wide array of proxies for racial categories being used by advertisers on the platform through our Citizen Browser